[Burning Issues] Manual Scavenging

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Meaning of manual scavenging (MS)

  • Is a caste-based occupation involving the removal of untreated human excreta from insanitary (or ‘dry’) latrines
  • It has been officially abolished by law in India as a dehumanizing practice – the Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (MSRA, 2013) has replaced the 1993 Act.
  • There are three types of MS
    1. Manual Scavengers
    2. Sewerage workers/septic tank cleaners
    3. Sweepers

Caste Census 2011 Figures / Appraisal of govt efforts

  1. >1.6 lakh households had at least 1 member working as a MS. This puts the number of manual scavengers in India at ≅1.7 lakh (mostly women).
  2. ≅12k manual scavengers were identified across India in 2016 – 82% of these are in UP (Ministry of Social Justice figures, 2016)
  3. There exist 2.6 Mn insanitary latrines. 72% of these are in Andhra, Assam, J&K, Maha, TN, UP and WB

Problems with the profession / Why it should be banned

  • Undignified life (all the 6 Fundamental Rights are compromised, directly or indirectly)
  • It perpetuates casteism
  • Modern, secular india has no place for such “professions”
  • Doesn’t suit India’s rising global profile – ‘super power’ aspirations
  • Women empowerment (most manual scavengers are dalit women)

MSRA 2013


  • the employment of manual scavengers,
  • the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and
  • the construction of insanitary latrines

Fixes responsibility on each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority to

  • survey insanitary latrines (i.e latrines without water) within its jurisdiction and
  • construct sanitary community latrines (demolition cost to be borne by the owner of such latrine)

Offenses under the act are non-bailable

  • punishable with fines and jail

Seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers, and

  • provide for their alternative employment

Anti-MS Efforts

By the centre (govt of India)

  • Legal measures
    • budgetary support for the implementation of MSRA, 2013
  • Policy support
    • Scholarship schemes for children of those engaged in MS
    • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

By the states

  • MSRA, 2013
    • primary responsibility for its implementation
  • UP govt
    • ‘Daliya Jalao’ initiative freed almost 10% MS (of the state’s total MS burden) within a year (spillover effects in terms of control over polio and diarrhoea)

Institutional action

  • NHRC reprimanding states
  • National Cmsn for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) – welfare functions

Why manual scavenging persists

Govt apathy

  1. poor implementation of the MSRA, 2013
  • 2.6 Mn insanitary latrines still exist (NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan, Census 2011 data)
  • 72% of these are in Andhra, Assam, J&K, Maha, TN, UP and WB
  • 1.3 million Dalits (mostly women) make living as manual scavengers (NGO data)

99% reduction (2014 vs. 2017) in budgetary allocations by the centre

  • This is despite goi’s commitment towards sanitation and a dedicated cess

Indian Railways

  1. continues to be the largest employer of MS (no data available about the no. of MS employed)
  2. typically employs MS through ‘contractors’

Societal prejudice

  1. popular insensitivity towards the issue
  2. the notion of caste and pollution
  3. stigmatisation of the dalits

Way Forward

  • Civil Society
    1. more intense activism is needed
  • Judiciary
    1. judicial activism should be resorted to
    2. if the SC can ban liquor stores on highways, why is MS being ignored?
  • Vigilant Media
    1. can pressurize govt into action by animating the issue of MS
  • Govt
    1. strict implementation of MSRA, 2013
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