What is Manual Scavenging? Explained here.

Why do we need to eradicate Manual Scavenging?

Manual scavenging refers to the practice of a person cleaning up human excreta or carrying such wastes by hand without any special protective equipment. Formerly this included the practice of removing faeces and urine from dry toilets. However, over time the scope of manual scavenging has expanded to include manual and unsafe cleaning of drains, sewer lines, septic tanks and latrine pits. The government also provided details of on-job fatalities of manual scavengers i.e., death in sewers or septic tanks.

In the last five-year period (2016-2020), there have been over 500 fatalities due to drowning in sewers and septic tanks. During this period the highest fatalities were recorded in 2019 with 110 deaths.

Legal Provisions and Other Efforts Against Manual Scavenging:

1. Under the ‘Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955’ of the year 1955, it was talked about the abolition of untouchables based on scavenging or sweeping.

2. In 1956, the Kaka Kalelkar Commission underlined the need for the mechanization of toilet cleaning.

3. Subsequently, both the Malkani Committee (1957) and the Pandya Committee (1968) regulated the service conditions of manual scavenging in India.

4.  Under the “Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Toilets (Prohibition) Act, 1993” the practice of manual scavenging has been banned in the country and is a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine has been done. The Act also prohibits the construction of dry toilets in the country. Under the “Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”, manual scavenging is strictly prohibited.

What comes Under the “Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013?

1. It is an offence punishable (imprisonment and/or fine) under this Act to employ or engage people to manually clean drains, sewer tanks, septic tanks without any safety equipment.

2. The Act enjoins the State Governments and municipal bodies to identify manual scavengers and make arrangements for their rehabilitation along with their families.

3. Provision has also been made under this Act for providing training, lending and providing accommodation to manual scavengers.

4. In addition, the Supreme Court had made a provision to provide financial assistance of Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the victim’s family in each case of death while cleaning the sewer.

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Reasons for the prevalence of manual scavenging:

1. The practice of manual scavenging is linked to the caste system in India, where only the so-called lower castes are expected to do the job. Although manual scavenging as a form of employment has been banned through laws, the stigma and discrimination associated with it still persist.

2. The biggest reason for the increase in the number of deaths during manual scavenging is that most of the people cleaning the manholes do not have adequate equipment and protective gear. People engaged in this work often use only basic tools like buckets, brooms and baskets.

What is the solution?

1. Before dealing with the social aspects associated with manual scavenging, it must be acknowledged that even today this evil practice is associated with the caste and varna system, as well as the factors behind it, it is also necessary to explain. To end this evil practice, it is very necessary to make people aware of the gross violation of human rights during manual scavenging.

2. Earlier efforts to end manual scavenging have reduced cases, but the practice is still continuing in most parts of the country, so laws related to manual scavenging have been promoted along with promoting technical options to address this problem. should be made more strict.

Currently, the people involved in manual scavenging come from among the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in the country. At the same time, this evil practice is also deeply linked to caste and economic inequality, which has made it very difficult to stop this problem. Along with promoting technological alternatives to eliminate manual scavenging, special attention will have to be paid to social awareness and rehabilitation of people associated with this profession.

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Jagisha Arora

MA in History and has worked as a freelance writer. She writes on issues of gender, caste and democracy.
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