- 15 Dec 2022
- 7 min read
For Prelims: Initiatives to tackle Menace of Manual Scavenging, Swachh Bharat Mission
For Mains: Menace of Manual Scavenging, Issues related to SC, STs
Why in News?
Recently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E) told Lok Sabha that no person had died from Manual Scavenging in the last three years (2019 to 2022).
- A total of 233 people had died “due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks' in this time period.
What is Manual Scavenging?
- Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers”.
- India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
- The Act bans the use of any individual manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner human excreta till its disposal.
- The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice”.
What are the Reasons for the Prevalence of Manual Scavenging?
- Indifferent Attitude:
- A number of independent surveys have talked about the continued reluctance on the part of state governments to admit that the practice prevails under their watch.
- Issues due to Outsourcing:
- Many times, local bodies outsource sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors. However, many of them fly-by-night operators, do not maintain proper rolls of sanitation workers.
- In case after case of workers being asphyxiated to death, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.
- Social Issue:
- The practice is driven by caste, class and income divides.
- It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job.
- In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), however, the stigma and discrimination associated with it still linger on.
- This makes it difficult for liberated manual scavengers to secure alternative livelihoods.
What are the Steps taken to tackle the Menace of Manual Scavenging?
- The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020:
- It proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
- It will be an amendment to The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
- It is still awaiting cabinet approval.
- The Building and Maintenance of Insanitary Latrines Act of 2013:
- It outlaws' construction or maintenance of unsanitary toilets, and the hiring of anybody for their manual scavenging, as well as of hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
- It also provides a constitutional responsibility to provide alternative jobs and other assistance to manual scavenging communities, as reparation for historical injustice and indignity.
- Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989:
- In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers, more than 90% people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste. This became an important landmark to free manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.
- Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge:
- It was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on World Toilet Day (19th November) in 2020.
- The Government launched this “challenge” for all states to make sewer-cleaning mechanised by April 2021 — if any human needs to enter a sewer line in case of unavoidable emergency, proper gear and oxygen tanks, etc., are to be provided.
- Swachhta Abhiyan App:
- It has been developed to identify and geotag the data of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers so that the insanitary latrines can be replaced with sanitary latrines and rehabilitate all the manual scavengers to provide dignity of life to them.
- National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE):
- The NAMASTE scheme is being undertaken jointly by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the MoSJ&E and aims to eradicate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices.
- SC Judgment: In 2014, a Supreme Court order made it mandatory for the government to identify all those who died in sewage work since 1993 and provide Rs. 10 lakh each as compensation to their families.
- With Swachh Bharat Mission identified as a top priority area by the 15th Finance Commission and funds available for smart cities and urban development providing for a strong case to address the problem of manual scavenging.
- To address the social sanction behind manual scavenging, it is required first to acknowledge and then understand how and why manual scavenging continues to be embedded in the caste system.
- The state and society need to take active interest in the issue and look into all possible options to accurately assess and subsequently eradicate this practice.
UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)
Q. ‘Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan’ is a national campaign to (2016)
(a) rehabilitate the homeless and destitute persons and provide them with suitable sources of livelihood
(b) release the sex workers from their practice and provide them with alternative sources of livelihood
(c) eradicate the practice of manual scavenging and rehabilitate the manual scavengers
(d) release the bonded labourers from their bondage and rehabilitate them
- Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan is a national campaign for dignity and eradication of manual scavenging launched by Jan Sahas in 2001.
- Therefore, option (c) is the correct answer.