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Vulnerable Sections

Manual Scavenging in India is not prevalent anymore says Centre

Manual Scavenging in India is not prevalent anymore says Centre


  • GS 2 || Governance & Social Justice || Vulnerable Sections || Safai Karamcharis

Why in the news?

  • Recently, the centre has claimed that no deaths due to manual scavenging have been reported in the past five years.
  • However, according to the National Convener of the SafaiKarmachariAndolan,472 manual scavenging deaths across the country were recorded between 2016 and 2020, and 26 so far in 2021.

What is Manual Scavenging?

  • Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers”.
  • According to Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011, 1.8 lakh households are engaged in manual scavenging for a livelihood. The 2011 Census of India found 7.9 lakh cases of manual scavenging across India. It not only violates fundamental rights to live with dignity but poses a great threat to the life of the individual.
  • It has been officially prohibited by the anti-manual scavenging Act in 1993 as being dehumanizing practice. Unfortunately, manual scavenging persists.

Reasons for the Prevalence

  • Social issues- The practice is motivated by caste, class, and income disparities.
    • It is linked to India’s caste system, with so-called lower castes expected to do this job.
    • The employment of manual scavengers and the construction of dry latrines was prohibited in India in 1993 (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and the Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), but the stigma and discrimination associated with it persist.
    • This makes it difficult for freed manual scavengers to find alternative employment.
  • Unemployment: India has a high rate of unemployment. According to data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, India’s unemployment rate is 7%. (CMIE). In India, the availability of cheap labour promotes manual labour as a job. Due to a lack of jobs, manual scavengers resort to such menial labour to make ends meet.
  • Caste-based division of labour: Manual scavengers are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or deemed too menial by higher caste groups.
  • Indifferent Attitude: According to several independent surveys, state governments continue to be hesitant to admit that the practice exists under their supervision.
    • Recent examples from communities engaged in manual scavenging in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh highlight the failures of government to end manual scavenging and eliminate the entrenched attitudes and discriminatory practices that still bind members of affected communities to this degrading and unnecessary occupation.
  • Poor implementation of laws-The first anti-manual scavenging legislation was enacted in 1993. No one has ever been convicted under the Act.
    • The Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act of 2013 was passed, which re-enacted the provisions of the 1993 Act. The crimes have been made cognizable and non-bailable. These provisions are not effectively implemented. Only when fatal cases come to light are laws invoked, and most cases are settled with negotiated compensation and no action taken against the perpetrator.
    • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 declared the employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry toilets to be punishable with fines and imprisonment.
    • India’s Constitution bans the practice of untouchability, and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, prohibits compelling anyone to practice manual scavenging.Despite the various laws, its persistence shows the failure of law and state.
  • Lack of waterborne toilets:The major latrine used in urban areas is the dry toilets which are a major cause of manual scavenging. In India, for example, there are approximately 26 million unsanitary toilets. Moreover, in rural areas, there are no strategies put forward to convert dry toilets.

Steps taken

  • Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees ‘Right to Life’ and that also with
  • The Prohibition of Manual Scavenger Employment and Rehabilitation (Amendment) 2020 Bill
    • It proposes completely mechanizing sewer cleaning, introducing methods for “on-site” protection, and compensating manual scavengers in the event of sewer deaths.
    • It will be a change to the 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act.
    • It proposes completely mechanizing sewer cleaning, introducing methods for “on-site” protection, and compensating manual scavengers in the event of sewer deaths.
  • Safaimitra Suraksha-The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched it on World Toilet Day (19th November) in
    • The government issued this “challenge” to all states to automate sewer cleaning by April 2021 — if any human needs to enter a sewer line in an unavoidable emergency, proper gear and oxygen tanks, among other things, must be provided.
  • In 2014,Supreme Court order made it mandatory for the government to identify all those who died in sewage work since 1993 and provide  10 lakh each as compensation to their families.
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 defines manual scavenging & provides measures for rehabilitation of persons identified as manual scavengers.Key features of the Act are:
    • Prohibits the construction or maintenance of insanitary toilets.
    • Prohibits the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger violation could result in a years’ imprisonment or a fine of INR 50,000 or both.
    • Prohibits a person from being engaged or employed for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
    • Offenses under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable.
    • Calls for a survey of manual scavengers in urban and rural areas within a time-bound framework.
  • 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 do not operate with a flush).
  • The Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers in 1989; more than 90% of people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste. This became a significant milestone in the liberation of manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.

Way forward

  • Employment generation and rehabilitation-One of the most important rehabilitation processes is the creation of more employment opportunities. The jobs created would aim to provide locals with equal opportunities. The jobs created also serve to integrate manual scavengers into the community. Other areas associated with social inclusion, such as loaning schemes, should also be established.
    • Identification and capacity building of manual scavengers for an alternate source of livelihood.
  • Legislation and effective implementation- The government should strictly enforce the law that prohibits scavenging. Governments are hesitant to act and will go to great lengths to deny the existence of manual scavengers. People who subject others to such inhumane acts should be arrested.
    • The Prohibition of Manual Scavenger Employment and Rehabilitation (Amendment) 2020 Bill should be enacted as early as possible.
  • Proper Identification: States must accurately count the workers who clean toxic sludge.
  • Empowering Local Government: With the Swachh Bharat Mission identified as a top priority area by the 15th Finance Commission, and funds available for smart cities and urban development, there is a strong case for addressing the problem of manual scavenging.
  • Regular surveys and social audits to monitor existing schemes and programmes related to manual scavengers.
  • Technological innovations to eliminate human entry into septic tanks and drains for cleaning.
    • The ‘Bandicoot’ robot, created by a group of young engineers from Kerala in their company Genrobotics, can clean and unclog both manholes and septic tanks having multiple openings.
    • Bandicoot uses an infrared camera to project the inside of the manhole on the monitor fixed on the external stand; the interface is easy and user-friendly.
  • Education and awareness Children from scavenging families face a lot of social discrimination, which affects their education. The child eventually drops out and joins their parents in their line of work.
    • Implementing programmes to assist these children in completing their studies would be an effective strategy for putting an end to manual scavenging.
    • Creating awareness about the legal protection of manual scavengers and eliminating ambiguity in such laws.
  • Weakening the caste-based societal division especially in rural areas through community contact programs, social awareness through mass media, civil society, SHGS, and NGOs, value education amongst children, and breaking the caste-occupation link by ensuring socio-economic mobility through rigorous implementation of relevant schemes and laws.


  • Manual scavenging is considered inhumane and against Article 21 of the Indian constitution. It encompasses issues such as health and employment, human rights and social justice, gender and caste, and human dignity. This practice is widespread, and it will take the combined efforts of the government, civil society, and every individual to put an end to it.
  • Eliminating all forms of manual scavenging will uphold the right to dignity as enshrined in the Constitution and will pave way for a more humane life in the long run.

Mains model Question

  • What do you mean by manual scavenging? Why is it still practiced in India? Do you agree that state governments have failed to eliminate manual scavenging?