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Manual Scavenging in India

  • 07 Jun 2023
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: Manual-scavenging, Constitution of India, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, NAMASTE scheme , Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge, Swachhta Abhiyan App

For Mains: Reasons for the Continued Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India, Government Initiatives to Curb Manual Scavenging.

Why in News?

Recent revelations by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment highlight that only 508 out of 766 districts have declared themselves manual-scavenging free.

  • This discrepancy raises concerns about the true extent of manual scavenging and the effectiveness of government efforts.

What is Manual Scavenging?

  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, handling, and disposing of human excreta and other waste materials from dry latrines, open drains, and sewers.
    • In India, manual scavenging has been a long-standing issue, although it has been officially banned since 1993.

What are the Constitutional Safeguards and Legal Provisions for Manual Scavengers?

  • Constitutional Safeguards: The Constitution of India guarantees several rights and protections for manual scavengers such as:
    • Article 14: Equality before the law and equal protection of the laws.
    • Article 17: Abolition of untouchability and prohibition of its practice in any form.
    • Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty.
    • Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
  • Legal Provisions: The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 is the main legislation that aims to prohibit and eliminate manual scavenging in India. It prohibits the employment or engagement of anyone as a manual scavenger and also prohibits anyone from constructing or maintaining insanitary latrines.

What are the Reasons for the Continued Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India?

  • Inefficient Sewage Management System: In India, most municipalities do not have the latest machines for cleaning the sewage systems and thus sewage workers are required to enter the underground sewerage lines through manholes.
    • The unskilled labourers, meanwhile, are much cheaper to hire and contractors illegally employ them at a daily wage.
  • Caste-based social hierarchy: Manual scavenging has historically been associated with the caste system in India, where certain castes have been marginalised and forced into occupations considered "unclean" or "polluting."
    • The perpetuation of caste-based discrimination and social stigma contributes to the continuation of manual scavenging as a means of employment for these marginalised communities.
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihood Opportunities: Manual scavenging often persists due to limited alternative employment opportunities available to the affected communities.
    • Many manual scavengers are trapped in a cycle of poverty and exclusion, lacking access to education and skill development programs that could provide them with alternative livelihood options.
    • This lack of economic alternatives forces them to continue engaging in manual scavenging for survival.

What are the Effects of Manual Scavenging?

  • Health Hazards: Manual scavengers face significant health risks due to direct exposure to human waste and hazardous substances.
    • They are at high risk of contracting diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, and various respiratory infections.
    • The absence of protective gear and poor sanitation conditions further exacerbate the health hazards, leading to a higher incidence of illnesses and premature deaths among manual scavengers.
  • Dignity and Human Rights Violations: Manual scavenging is a clear violation of the dignity and human rights of the individuals involved.
    • They are subjected to degrading and inhumane conditions, handling human waste with their bare hands and lacking access to basic sanitation facilities.
    • This occupation perpetuates social stigma, discrimination, and the marginalisation of affected communities reinforcing caste-based oppression.
  • Psychological and Emotional Trauma: Engaging in manual scavenging can have severe psychological and emotional effects on the individuals involved.
    • The constant exposure to filth, the indignity of the work, and the discrimination they face take a toll on their mental well-being. Manual scavengers often experience feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and depression, leading to long-term psychological trauma.

What are the Government Initiatives and Supreme Court Directions to Curb Manual Scavenging?

  • Supreme Court Directions:
    • 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.
  • Rehabilitation Effort:
    • Payout and Subsidies:
      • Approximately 58,000 manual scavengers have been identified and given a one-time cash payout of ₹40,000 each.
        • Around 22,000 manual scavengers have been connected to skills training programs.
        • Subsidies and loans are available to support those interested in starting their own businesses. The objective is to eliminate manual scavenging deaths entirely.
    • Merger with NAMASTE Scheme:
      • The scheme for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers has been merged with the NAMASTE scheme for 100% mechanisation of sewer work.
      • The FY 2023-24 Union Budget lacks specific allocation for the rehabilitation scheme but allocates ₹100 crore to the NAMASTE scheme.
      • The NAMASTE scheme necessitates the identification and profiling of all septic tank/sewer workers, provision of occupational training and safety equipment, and enrollment in health insurance under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
  • Other Related Initiatives:

Way Forward

  • Technology-Driven Solutions: There is a need to embrace technology to develop innovative tools and machinery that can replace manual scavenging tasks.
    • For example, automated sewer cleaning robots can be deployed to clean sewer lines and septic tanks, reducing the need for human intervention in hazardous environments.
  • Promote Entrepreneurship and Skill Development: There is a need to encourage the training and skill development of affected individuals, empowering them to explore alternative livelihood opportunities.
    • Government and non-governmental organisations can provide vocational training in areas such as plumbing, electrical work, computer literacy, and entrepreneurship to help former manual scavengers transition to safer and more dignified professions.
  • Sanitation Infrastructure Upgrades: Invest in the development and improvement of sanitation infrastructure, including the construction of modern toilets, sewage treatment plants, and efficient waste management systems.
    • These upgrades will reduce the demand for manual scavenging and provide safer alternatives for waste disposal.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

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

Ans: (c)

Source: TH

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