Manual Scavenging Menace in India

Probable Mains Question  Q. What are the causes and consequences of manual scavenging in India? How can the government and the society eradicate this inhuman practice and rehabilitate the manual scavengers?
Context: Recently, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment revealed that only 508 districts out of the total 766 districts in the country have declared themselves manual-scavenging free. More about the News:
  • Elimination: Central Government has set August, 2023 as a deadline for declaring India manual scavenging free.
  • 1/3rd District yet to Declare: About 246 districts in the country have yet to declare themselves free of manual scavenging.
    • In Madhya Pradesh, 35 out of 52 districts have not submitted the report, while 21 out of 36 districts in Maharashtra are yet to declare themselves manual scavenging free.
    • State with 100% of districts free of manual scavenging: Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu etc
  • Lack of State Commission: 14 states/UTs do not have state commissions for safai karamcharis.
    • Under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act, 2013, manual scavenging is banned in the country and there is a requirement of the formation of state safai karamchari commission, state monitoring committees and district vigilance committees.
  • Mortality: According to government data, as many as 339 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India in the last five years.
  • UP First: Highest number of manual scavengers were identified in Uttar Pradesh, at 20,884, followed by Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Assam, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
About Manual Scavengers:
  • Manual Scavengers: A person who has been employed to handle the manual cleaning, disposing, carrying of human excreta from a railway trackinsanitary latrine, open drain or pit is considered to be a manual scavenger.
  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta.
Interventions to Prevent Manual Scavenging in India:
  • Human Right Violation: Manual scavenging is a grave social socio-legal problem which violates basic human dignity and Right to Life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution.
    • It also represents some of the worst surviving forms of both caste discrimination and dehumanizing forms of work.
  • Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993: It was passed to prohibit manual scavenging and to ensure that the people who are indulged in this practice are not deprived of their right to live with human dignity. 
    • It prohibits the employment of the manual scavengers and also the building of the insanitary latrines.
  • Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavenging, 2007 (SRMS): To help and provide assistance to the manual scavengers and their family members for their rehabilitation in some alternative occupations.
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: It bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
  • Judiciary: Supreme Court mandated a compensation of Rs 10 lakh by the State government to the family of any person who dies while engaging in scavenging work.
  • Budget 2023 Target: Finance Minister said that all cities and towns would switch to 100 per cent mechanical de-sludging of septic tanks and sewers, putting an end to manual scavenging.
    • Around 58,000 identified manual scavengers were being rehabilitated under government schemes for compensations, capital subsidies and other benefits.
Challenges in Eliminating the Menace of Manual Scavenging in India:
  • Lack of watery Restrooms: The most common restroom in cities is the dry restroom, which is a key contributor to manual scavenging.
    • Majority of toilets in our country, nearly 60 per cent, are not linked to sewer lines. Their septic tanks require manual cleaning.
  • Caste Bias: Manual scavenging has been linked to specific castes and communities, which has led to societal stigmatisation and prejudice against those who indulge in it.
    • Over 90% of manual scavengers identified in the surveys till 2018, were from Scheduled Caste communities. 
  • Failure of laws: While laws and regulations have been put in place to prohibit manual scavenging, their implementation has been poor in many areas.
    • According to a report by WaterAid India, manual scavenging undermines the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and reduced inequalities (Goal 10).
  • Indifferent Attitude: Several independent studies have discussed the state governments’ ongoing reluctance to acknowledge that the practice persists under their supervision. In the Lok Sabha, the Union Ministry of Social Justice stated that ‘there is no report of deaths due to manual scavenging’. However, according to the ministry in 2022, there were about 58,000 manual scavengers and 330 of them had died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks between 2017 and 2021.
  • Ineffective Rehabilitation Strategies: People have had difficulty locating other sources of income since many rehabilitation plans have not been successfully implemented.
Way Forward:
  • Use of Technology: Promoting cutting-edge sewage management technologies, to lessen the need for manual scavenging and make the workplace safer for sanitation personnel.
    • Deployment of Bandicoot Robot: It is the world’s first robotic scavenger, developed as a Make in India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative by startup Genrobotics.
  • Skill Development: Education and employment, manual scavengers need education and job opportunities from the government to quit.
  • Changing societal attitudes: The government must attempt to combat the stigma attached to manual scavengers and influence how society views these workers.
  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2021, made recommendation to the Centre to eradicate manual scavenging:
    • Bringing a new Act on “hazardous cleaning” and taking strict action against local authorities who employ people as manual scavengers.
    • Expand the meaning of “manual scavenging” to include other categories of “hazardous cleaning,” or create a new legal framework for it.
    • To stop the harassment and prejudice experienced by women manual scavengers and the children of manual scavengers, a penal clause may be added to the law.
    • The rehabilitation process for manual scavengers may be connected to programmes like MNREGA that allow them to start earning money right away and check in periodically to see how they and their families are doing;
    • Compensation: The one-time cash assistance provided to compensate manual scavengers may be increased from Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 1 lakh.
    • National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) to keep track of the data in its report and the sewer deaths;
    • Financial Aid: For each State, the Union Finance Ministry may nominate a certain nationalised bank to assume the obligation of providing loans to manual scavengers and their dependents in the amount of up to Rs. 10,00,000 in order for them to start a business activity;
    • Training: Manual scavengers may receive training and financial aid from the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) to help them begin working in the sanitation sector.
Additional Information: “National Action for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem” (NAMASTE) Scheme”
  • It was launched in 2022 as a Central Sector Scheme.
  • The scheme is being undertaken jointly by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MoSJE). 
  • It aims to eradicate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices.
  • Objective: To stop deaths of Sewers and Septic Tank Workers (SSWs) and to promote mechanisation of cleaning operations with a vision to reduce hazardous cleaning and ensure safety of sanitation workers.
  • Main features of the Scheme to be implemented in all ULBs are:-
    • Identification: NAMASTE envisages identifying the Sewer/Septic Tank Workers (SSWs).
    • Occupational Training and distribution of PPE Kits to SSWs.
    • Assistance for Safety Devices to Sanitation Response Units (SRUs).
    • Extending Health Insurance Scheme Benefits to identified SSWs and their families under the Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY).
    • Livelihood Assistance: The Action Plan will promote mechanization and enterprise development by providing funding support and subsidy (capital +interest) to the sanitation workers, to procure sanitation related equipment.
National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK):
  • NCSK was established in the year 1993 as per the provisions of the NCSK Act 1993.
  • It is a non-statutory body, whose tenure is extended from time to time through resolutions by the central government.
  • Functions of NCSK
    • It advises the government on welfare programmes for Safai Karamcharis, evaluates existing programmes, and investigates specific grievances.
    • The NCSK monitors the implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, advises the Centre and State Governments on how to implement it, and investigates complaints about violations. 
 News Source: The Hindu

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