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  • 23 December, 2019

  • Min Read

Manual scavenging left 282 dead since 2016

Syllabus subtopic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the problem of manual scavenging in India; reasons and govt’s efforts in curbing it.

News: As many as 282 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the country between 2016 and November 2019, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said in the Parliament.


  • The Central government has put on record that there are about 60,440 manual scavengers identified across the country, in 17 States.
  • More than half of them, about 35,472, have been identified from Uttar Pradesh alone.
  • The Parliament had enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 which came in force from December 6, 2013.

State-wise death tolls

  • Among the States, Tamil Nadu has recorded 40 deaths, the highest in number, in these four years. This is followed by Haryana with 31 deaths, and Gujarat and Delhi with 30 deaths each. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have recorded 27 deaths each in the same period. These figures are on the basis of FIRs filed by the respective State governments.
  • According to the data tabled in the Rajya Sabha, 50 deaths were reported in 2016, 83 in 2017, 66 in 2018 and 83 till November 2019.

Higher than reported’

  • According to the data tabled in the Rajya Sabha, 50 deaths were reported in 2016, 83 in 2017, 66 in 2018 and 83 till November 2019.

  • Sanitation being a State subject, the people for cleaning of sewers and septic tanks are employed by local bodies. States and Union Territories have been requested to ensure filing of FIRs and prosecution in all cases of employment of persons for hazardous cleaning of sewers as per the provisions of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

  • Bezwada Wilson, Magsaysay award winning activist and national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, an organisation working to eradicate manual scavenging, said that the deaths are much higher than what is reported in the official statistics.

What could be the reason?

  • The deaths have been higher in states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh where there has been rapid and unplanned urbanization.
  • Reducing human intervention in cleaning septic tanks and sewers is important to bring these numbers down, he added.
  • There are technologies available not only to detect the presence of poisonous gas in sewers and septic tanks but also for mechanized cleaning of it.

About Manual Scavenging

  • Scavenging is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from service/ dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off.
  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. It often involves using the most basic of tools such as buckets, brooms and baskets.

Problems/ challenges associated with it

  • Caste based: The practice of manual scavenging is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes were expected to perform this job. Manual scavengers are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in India.
  • Absence of Alternate livelihood: manual scavenging for many may have ended as a form of employment, the stigma and discrimination associated with it lingers on, making it difficult for former or liberated manual scavengers to secure alternate livelihoods and raising the fear that people could once again return to manual scavenging in the absence of other opportunities to support their families.

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

This Act intends to, inter alia, achieve its objectives to:-

  • Eliminate the insanitary latrines.
  • Prohibit:-
  1. Employment as Manual Scavenger
  2. Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
  • Survey of Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation, within a time bound manner.

Main features of the Act are:-

  • Definitions of manual scavengers and insanitary latrines widened to cover not only dry latrines but other insanitary latrines as well.
  • Prohibition of person from engagement or employment for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
  • Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable and attract stringent penalties.
  • Vigilance/Monitoring Committee at sub-Division, District, State and Central Govt. levels.
  • National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would, inter alia, monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
  • Provision of construction of adequate number of sanitary community latrines in urban areas, within three years from the date of commencement of this Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation.
  • Survey of Manual Scavengers in Urban and rural areas: which should be conducted with a time bound framework
  • Comprehensive Rehabilitation of the Manual Scavengers within a time bound framework.

National Commission for Safai Karmacharis

  • The NCSK was established in the year 1993 as per the provisions of the NCSK Act 1993 initially for the period upto 1997.

Role of NCSK:

  • Recommend to the Government regarding specific programmes for welfare of Safai Karamcharis, study and evaluate the existing welfare programmes for Safai Karamcharis, investigate cases of specific grievances etc.
  • Also as per the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, the NCSK has been assigned the work to monitor the implementation of the Act, tender advice for its effective implementation to the Centre and State Governments and enquire into complaints regarding contravention/non-implementation of the provisions of the Act.

Source: The Hindu

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