From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Plight of sanitation workers in India
“My head hangs in shame,” said the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court while condemning the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for not paying ₹10 lakh each as compensation to the family of person who died after inhaling toxic gases inside a sewer.
Why such criticism by the Delhi HC?
- Cleaning of sewers and septic tanks has led to at least 351 deaths since 2017.
Manual sanitary works 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.”
Why is it still prevalent in India?
- Low awareness: Manual scavenging is mostly done by the marginalized section of the society and they are generally not aware about their rights.
- Enforcement issues: The lack of enforcement of the Act and exploitation of unskilled labourers are the reasons why the practice is still prevalent in India.
- High cost of automated: The Mumbai civic body charges anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000 to clean septic tanks.
- Cheaper availability: The unskilled labourers, meanwhile, are much cheaper to hire and contractors illegally employ them at a daily wage of Rs 300-500.
- Caste dynamics: Caste hierarchy still exists and it reinforces the caste’s relation with occupation. Almost all the manual scavengers belong to lower castes.
Various policy initiatives
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020: It proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: Superseding the 1993 Act, the 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
- Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan: It started national wide march “Maila Mukti Yatra” for total eradication of manual scavenging from 30th November 2012 from Bhopal.
- Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers since majority of the manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste.
- Compensation: As per the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Safai Karamchari Andolan vs Union of India case, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh is awarded to the victims family.
- National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK): It is currently a temporary non-statutory body that investigates the conditions of Safai Karamcharis (waste collectors) in India and makes recommendations to the Government.
Other initiatives for sanitation workers
- The ministry now has proper distinction between sanitation work and manual scavenging.
- The practice of manual scavenging no longer takes place in the country as all manual scavengers had been accounted for and enrolled into the rehabilitation scheme, said the ministry.
- The enumeration of sanitization workers is soon to be conducted across 500 AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) cities, as a part of National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE).
- The NAMASTE scheme aims to eradicate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices.
- 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.
(Click) FREE1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more