Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

530 districts reported free of Manual Scavenging: Centre


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Manual Scavenging in India

manual scavenging

Central Idea

  • The Social Justice Ministry revealed that while 530 districts have reported themselves as manual scavenging-free, a significant number of districts are yet to do so.
  • Despite the government’s assertion that manual scavenging-related deaths have not occurred in the last five years, fatalities during sewer and septic tank cleaning persist.

Manual Scavenging in India

  • Manual scavenging is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewers or septic tanks.
  • India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
  • The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
  • In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was also broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks.
  • The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”

Reasons for its persistence

  • Low Awareness and Marginalization: Manual scavenging is often carried out by marginalized sections of society who are unaware of their rights, making them vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Enforcement Issues: Weak enforcement of the Act and the exploitation of unskilled laborers contribute to the persistence of manual scavenging.
  • High Cost of Automation: The high cost of adopting automated cleaning methods in sewers is a deterrent for municipal authorities.
  • Cheaper Availability of Unskilled Labor: Contractors resort to illegal employment of unskilled labourers who are willing to work at lower wages, perpetuating the practice.
  • Caste Dynamics: The practice is reinforced by the existing caste hierarchy, with a majority of manual scavengers belonging to lower castes.

Various Policy Initiatives

  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020: The proposed amendment seeks to mechanize sewer cleaning, provide on-site protection, and offer compensation in case of sewer-related deaths.
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: This Act goes beyond dry latrine prohibitions and outlaws all forms of manual excrement cleaning in insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
  • Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan: The “Maila Mukti Yatra,” initiated in 2012, aims to eradicate manual scavenging nationwide, starting from Bhopal.
  • Prevention of Atrocities Act: This Act serves as protection for sanitation workers, as a significant number of manual scavengers belong to the Scheduled Caste.
  • Compensation: The PEMSR Act and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Safai Karamchari Andolan vs. Union of India case mandate compensation of Rs 10 lakh for victims’ families.
  • National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK): Investigating the conditions of waste collectors in India, the NCSK provides recommendations to the government.
  • Proper Distinction: The Ministry now recognizes the difference between sanitation work and manual scavenging.
  • Enumeration of Sanitization Workers: The enumeration of sanitation workers will be conducted in 500 AMRUT cities as part of the National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE).
  • NAMASTE Scheme: The NAMASTE scheme aims to eliminate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices, enhancing the safety and dignity of sanitation workers.

States and UTs with Pending Declaration of Manual Scavenging-Free Districts

  • Concerning Data: Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand are among the States and UTs with the highest number of districts yet to declare themselves as manual scavenging-free.
  • Disparity among States: While States like Bihar, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu have achieved 100% declaration of manual scavenging-free districts, several other States and UTs have reported only 15% to 20% of districts as free from the practice.

Way forward

  • Regular surveys and social audits must be conducted against the involvement of manual scavengers by public and local authorities.
  • There must be proper identification and capacity building of manual scavengers for alternate sources of livelihood.
  • Creating awareness about the legal protection of manual scavengers is necessary.

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