Explain the issue of manual scavenging and critically analyse the efforts by the government
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. 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. Despite progress, manual scavenging persists in India. According to the India Census 2011, there are more than 2.6 million dry latrines in the country. There are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed in open drains, 7,94,390 dry latrines where the human excreta is cleaned manually. Seventy three percent of these are in rural areas and 27 percent are in urban areas.
Efforts taken by India
- In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers. In 2013, landmark new legislation in the form of the Manual Scavengers Act was passed which seeks to reinforce this ban by prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers to be identified through a mandatory survey.
- In 1993, the Government of India enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act which prohibited the employment of manual scavengers for manually cleaning dry latrines and also the construction of dry toilets, that is, toilets that do not operate with a flush. It provided for imprisonment of upto a year and a fine. In 2013, this was followed by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which is wider in scope and importantly, acknowledged the urgency of rehabilitating manual scavengers.’
- The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, passed by the Indian government in 1993, forbade the use of manual scavengers for physically cleaning dry latrines as well as the construction of dry toilets (that do not operate with a flush).
- The Prevention of Atrocities Act was enacted in 1989 as an integrated safeguard for sanitation workers, with the Scheduled Caste accounting for more than 90% of those engaged as manual scavengers. This was a watershed moment in the fight to release manual scavengers from their assigned customary jobs.
- The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs started the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge on World Toilet Day (19 November) in 2020. The government issued this “challenge” to all states to automate sewer-cleaning by April 2021; if a human must enter a sewer system in an unavoidable emergency, suitable gear and oxygen tanks, among other things, must be given.
- The ‘Swachhta Abhiyan App’ was created to identify and geotag data on insanitary latrines and manual scavengers so that insanitary latrines may be replaced with sanitary latrines and all manual scavengers can be rehabilitated so that they can live with dignity.
- Article 21 of the Constitution protects the right to live a dignified life.
- Former or emancipated manual scavengers find it difficult to find alternative employment because to stigma and discrimination.
- In the absence of other options for supporting their families, people may return to physical scavenging.
- In the past, a lack of funding support for rehabilitation and a large allocation did not result in effective utilisation.
- Sewage problems: Many cities lack sewerage that serves the entire city. Sewage lines are sometimes connected to storm drains, which become clogged and require human intervention.
- Open drains: Because open drains are poorly built, people can pour solid garbage into them, exacerbating the situation. Disposing of sanitary napkins, diapers, and other items improperly clogs drains, which machines cannot clear.
- Bringing individuals responsible for the situation to justice is tough.
- Design: Septic tanks are poorly built. They have engineering flaws, which implies that after a certain point, a machine will not be able to clean them. Millions of septic tanks are being installed in rural India as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission.
What more can be done
- Ensure discrimination-free, secure and alternate livelihoods by providing skill development and livelihoods training to women, linking them to government employment schemes and entitlements as well as ensuring their land rights. Vocational training linked to employment for young people, and support to liberated manual scavengers in building alternate livelihoods could go a long way in ensuring steady, stable livelihoods for the future.
- Create a favourable environment through community awareness and sensitization of local administration.
- Empowering Local Administration: The 15th Finance Commission recognised the Swachh Bharat Mission as a top priority area, and funds available for smart cities and urban development provide a compelling rationale for addressing the problem of manual scavenging.
- To eliminate the social stigma associated with manual scavenging, it is necessary to first identify and then comprehend how and why manual scavenging remains ingrained in the caste system.
- The Need for a Strict Law: If a law establishes a legislative responsibility on the part of state entities to provide sanitary services, the rights of these workers will no longer be in jeopardy.
- Build the capacity of the community to promote rehabilitation efforts and self-reliance and also build leadership in the community with a particular focus on Dalit women