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  • 20 July, 2022

  • Min Read



17 people have died this year till July while cleaning sewer and septic tank. Since 2017, 347 such death has been recorded across India due to manual septic tank cleaning.

  • Despite the 2013 law prohibiting the employment of manual scavengers, a government survey identified 54,130 people engaged in this job as of July 2019.
  • Tamil Nadu had registered 206 deaths of manual scavengers who were cleaning sewer and septic tanks between 1993 and July 2019, the highest among all the state
  • Even though manual scavenging is banned in India, the practice is still prevalent in many parts of the country.

What is manual scavenging?

It is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewer or septic tanks.

Manual scavenging is also defined as the removal of human excrement from a public street, dry latrine, and cleaning of the septic tank, gutters, and sewers.

Why is manual scavenging still prevalent in India??

  • This practice is driven by caste, class, and the income divide. It has been linked to the Indian caste system where the so-called lower caste is expected to perform this job.
  • The lack of enforcement of manual scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
  • Manual scavengers are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in India.
  • It is the manifestation of the exploitation of unskilled laborers.

Steps taken to tackle manual scavenging

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • It is directed to completely mechanize sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
  • This will be an amendment to The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • This act is still awaiting cabinet approval.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

  • This act supersedes the 1993 Act, the 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
  • Prohibits the construction or maintenance of insanitary toilets.
  • Prohibits the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger.
  • Violations could result in a year’s imprisonment or a fine of INR 50,000 or both.
  • Prohibits a person from being engaged or employed for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
  • Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable.

The Building and Maintenance of Insanitary Latrines Act of 2013:

  • It outlaws the construction and maintenance of unsanitary toilets, and the hiring of anybody for their manual scavenging, as well as hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
  • It also provides a constitutional responsibility to provide other jobs and other assistance to manual scavenging communities, as reparation for historical injustice and indignity.

Prevention of Atrocities Act:

  • In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers, more than 90% of 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 on 19th November in 2020.
  • The Government launched this challenge for all states to make sewer-cleaning mechanized by April 2021 — if any human needs to enter a sewer line in case of an unavoidable emergency, then the proper gear and oxygen tanks, etc., must be provided to him.

‘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.
  • SC Judgment: Supreme Court order in 2014 made it mandatory for the government to identify all those who died in sewage work since 1993 and provide them Rs. 10 lakh each as compensation to their families.
  • Government of India has adopted a two-pronged strategy of eliminating insanitary latrines through demolition and conversion into sanitary latrines and developing a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the manual scavengers

Article 21 of the Constitution guarantee the Right to life with dignity, as this right is available to both citizen and non-citizen. The ban on manual scavenging should therefore be implemented in letters and spirit.

Source: The Hindu

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