Manual Scavenging in India

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 defines a manual scavenger as:

“Manual scavenger” means a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or a State Government may notify before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be prescribed, and the expression “manual scavenging” shall be construed accordingly.

The ILO points out to three forms of manual scavenging found in India:

  1. Removal of human excrement from public streets and “dry latrines”
  2. Cleaning septic tanks
  3. Cleaning gutters and sewers

Despite its prohibition, manual scavenging is a persistent menace in India. The employment of manual scavengers shows ill effect on the mental and physical health of the people.

  • According to the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011, about 1.8 lakh Indian households engage in manual scavenging with the highest numbers showcased in Maharashtra. Manual scavenging is the most undesirable and low-paid profession in today’s world and is exclusively occupied by subcastes of Dalits who in turn become stigmatized and eventually untouchable.
  • Manual contact with excreta exposes them to various diseases, skin infections, rotting of fingers and limbs, tuberculosis, hepatitis, leptospirosis, helicobacter and nausea to name a few.

Some Legislative efforts include

The protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

  • It was enacted to do away with the practice of untouchability and social disabilities faced by people belonging to the Scheduled Caste community

The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

The act provides measures for enforcement of rights and protections for Dalits. This Act makes it a punishable offence to employ any individual belonging to scheduled castes or scheduled tribes to do manual scavenging.

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act (1993)

This Act prescribes punishment to individual who employs manual scavengers as well as to those who construct dry toilets or latrines.

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

The act bans the employment of manual scavengers and lays out statutory criteria to identify Dalits engaged in manual scavenging. The act also has provisions for providing them with alternative employment.

Schemes & Commissions

Valmiki Ambedkar Malin Basi Awas Yojna (VAMBAY), 2001

Launched in 2001, the scheme aims to provide the shelter to those living below the poverty line in urban slums, thus making cities slum free.

Pre-Metric Scholarships for the Children of those Engaged in Unclean Occupations

This provides financial assistance to the children whose parents are engaged in manual scavenging work and belonging to Scheduled Caste category.

Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), 1999

As name suggests, this campaign was started in rural areas to eliminate the practice of open defecation by making alternative arrangements.

National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers (NSLRS), 1992

This scheme was launched for providing alternate employment to the scavengers and their dependents through training and financial package for rehabilitation.

Self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavenging (SRMS), 2007

With a purpose to liberate as well as to rehabilitate manual scavengers, the government initiated this scheme. The scheme includes one-time cash assistance, training with stipend and concessional loans with subsidy for taking up alternative occupation.

Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan (NBA) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (SBA), 2012 & 2014

Insanitary waste disposal system such as dry toilets, open defecation, etc. is the primary reason for manual scavenging. Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was renamed as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2012 and then as Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (SBA) in 2014 with the objectives:

  • To eradicate the system of open defecation in India
  • To convert the dry latrines into pour-flush latrines
  • To abolish the system of manual scavenging
  • To start a modern and scientific waste disposal mechanism or management
  • To bring about behavioural changes with respect to health sanitation practices

National commission for schedule caste (NCSC)

This commission is constituted to safeguard the interest of schedule castes in India as per the Article 338 of the constitution.

National Safai Karamcharis Commission (NSKC)

The Commission was constituted as a statutory body National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993. However, with the lapsing of the act in 2004, the Commission is acting as a non-statutory body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The commission is responsible for the enactment of “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”.

National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC)

It is incorporated under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, as an apex institution for all round socio-economic upliftment of the Safai Karamcharis and their dependents throughout India and to extend financial assistance for establishment of income generating projects.

Mission Garima

Mission Garima is a joint initiative of Tata Trust and the Munciple Corporation of Greater Mumbai(MCGM) to eliminate unsafe, undignified practices for sanitation workers in Mumbai. The focus of the mission is

  • To improve the protection equipment, machines and other technology to minimize manual handling of the waste.
  • To spread community awareness about working conditions of the workers
  • To provide better healthcare facilities and livelihood opportunities to the sanitation workers and their children.

Today, the government has allocated a separate budget for states to acquire new technology to clean sewers and has made provisions for alternate employment for the workers. Governments have put the emphasis on mechanical de-sludging and protective equipment as well. Yet, more efforts are to be made to identify and rehabilitate this section of the society.

NAMESTE efforts by Government of India

Further Reads

  1. BBC 
  2. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute, BARTI, Pune
  3. THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF ADVANCED LEGAL STUDIES, KOCHI
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