Manual Scavenging in India

India aspires to be the leading economy in the world and reach greater heights during the Amrit Kaal. As Indka dreams to jump higher rungs in the global order, there are sections at home that have unfulfilled aspirations. The plight of vulnerable sections who are compelled to do the awful task of cleaning the human excreta reveals the hindrances that inhibit the attainment of the full potential. 

Manual Scavenging is a disrespectful and inhumane activity in which an individual is coerced to put off the human excreta from the sewers, public streets, septic tanks, and gutters. Manual Scavenging is prohibited by the statutory law in India I.e. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. Though the fact is that it has been banned since 1993 only. It outlaws the act of making an individual do the dehumanizing deed of dragging, disposing, or handling excreta. This activity is both dehumanizing and endangers the life of those involved. The strong gas contained in the manholes is not fit for human survival and can lead to death. 

This activity is not acceptable in the country which stresses the provision of social justice to the last men in the queue. Despite being banned, manual scavenging is still practiced in many pockets of India. Instead, it is not only practiced but also encouraged. The deed is justified by many as the obligation of the marginalized sections towards the remaining population. The people involved in this are looked down upon as inferior by society and are often at the receiving end of the community. 

As per a recent report by the Ministry of Social Justice, out of a total of 766 districts in the country, only 508 have been confirmed to be manual scavenging-free. The ministry has affirmed that a total of 58,000 manual scavengers have been identified and have left the manual scavenging to take up either other work or skilling. The said ministry has also allocated one-time funds to those people. 

Laws in place for wiping out Manual scavenging 

  1. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 – Prohibits the activity of manual scavenging at the outset. The penalty for doing it is fixed at imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine up to Rs. 1 lakh or both. 
  2. National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) is established to strengthen those who are employed in the activities of cleaning the city. 
  3. Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955- makes untouchability a crime. It is both cognizable and non-compoundable. The structure punishment under it acts as a guard against those who force people to work as manual scavengers and also discriminates against them. 
  4. Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction do Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993- it makes it obligatory on the part of the state, and citizens to maintain toilets. 5. SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 prohibits injustices against the scheduled castes and tribes. It is also known that most of the people engaged in this activity belong to this category only. Hence, it is a step in the right direction.
  5. The Supreme Court has also held the state to act following the law and provide rehabilitation to those who are involved in this activity of manual scavenging. 

Why is Manual Scavenging still prevailing? 

The deed of manual scavenging is still prevalent due to the following reasons – 1. Enforcement of laws- The act to eliminate manual screening is in place but, there is a lack of enforcement of the same. There is a lack of commitment on ground t 2. The cost of installing and maintaining automated machines might be an issue that inhibits its adoption. This drags the vulnerable sections into the vicious web of manual scavenging. 

  1. Attitude toward those who used to practice manual scavenging is not appreciated by society in general. They are sidelined and not considered for any other job. This leads to their isolation from the community and leaves them in a depreciated situation. 
  2. Lack of regular exercises to account for the presence of this activity leads to negligence on the part of the state. This directs to the abuse of workers by contractors. 5. Municipal corporations may at times appoint private personnel to do the task of cleaning septic tanks etc. It in turn leads to them having manual scavengers for the said task. 6. The marginalized sections are often punished for their social status rooted in their caste and also economic status. They are looked upon as untouchable and even outcasts. This places them in a continuous cycle of poverty, unemployment, and low self-esteem. 

What is the way ahead to weed out this problem do manual scavenging for once and all? Several steps can be followed to do the needful like,- 

  • The willingness of authorities to carve out a change in society is needed. Special allocation and consideration shall be put in for providing the mechanized systems at the grassroots level. 
  • Behavioral change in the thinking pattern of society is a much-needed reform. It can be done through awareness campaigns and penalizing those who force people to commit this act. 
  • Enforcement of available laws with added strength should be the ultimate objective. Surprise checks by field officers and opening up grievance portals by citizens should be encouraged. 
  • The human rights of those violated should be brought to notice and appropriate steps should be taken to enable them to get back in the mainstream society. 
  • Swachh Bharat Campaign should be taken to the next level and steps towards the attainment of Open Defecation Free (ODF) status by cities should be encouraged. ● Penalize officers who are unable to ensure a ban on this practice and reward those who fulfill their duties. 
  • There is a need to allocate resources for killing those who have left this work and alternative employment opportunities should also be provided to them. 

The need of the hour is to follow the above recommendations in letter and spirit. Complete elimination of manual scavenging needs a coordinated response from all the stakeholders like the government, citizenry, media, and society in general. India’s hopes of becoming a developed

nation rests on the collective strength of Team India will never be realized even one section is left behind.

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