Manual scavenging law to be amended to hike compensation for deaths

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Mains Paper 2 | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Manual Scavenging Act, SECC, National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC)

Mains level: This article talks about the recently proposed amendment in the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013


Amendments in Manual Scavenging prohibition law

  1. The Union government is set to amend the rules of the legislation that outlaws manual scavenging so as to make it mandatory for contractors as well as private individuals, who engage workers for manual handling of human excreta, to pay Rs 10 lakh each to families of those who die while cleaning sewers or septic tanks.
  2. This would be in addition to the Rs 10 lakh that state governments have to pay in all such cases.
  3. Moreover, following severe under-reporting of the extent of the caste-based practice by states, the Centre is set to undertake a nationwide survey by a third-party to account for the numbers.


  1. States have accounted for merely 13,000-odd manual scavengers with 80 percent in Uttar Pradesh and most others maintaining that they have none at all.

Difference between Manual Scavenging Act of 1993 and its Amendment in 2013

  1. Manual scavenging, with its definition limited to manual cleaning of dry latrines, was outlawed in India in 1993
  2. It was only in 2013 that the amended ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act’ recognized more hazardous forms of the practice including the work of sewer and septic tank cleaners, whose deaths were entirely unaccounted for until then
  3. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that state governments have to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation each to families of all deceased workers since 1993

The Proposed Amendment

  1. Over and above this amount, the ministry has now proposed to amend rules under the Act so that contractors and private persons, who are responsible for hiring the victims, will also have to pay an equal amount to their families.

What is the issue?

  1. Compensation not being given to the concerned families by the states
  • According to the Central Monitoring Committee formed under the Act, only seven states have reported paying compensation for deaths in the last 25 years.
  • States like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have identified only around 270 cases of deaths and paid compensation in just a fraction of identified cases, with many paying only half of the amount due to each victim’s family.

2. According to the Act, a survey of those engaged in all forms of manual scavenging was to be completed within two months.

  • However, even four years since the Act came into force, several states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi have reported the numbers as zero.

     3. The law provides for prosecuting anyone even engaging people for manually handling human waste but there is not a single prosecution to date. It only happens in case of death.

New survey to be conducted

  1. The ministry will involve a third-party surveyor to determine the number of workers manually cleaning dry latrines, open drains, pits, railway tracks, septic tanks and sewers
  2. The survey, covering 15 major states, will be completed within six months
  3. It was proposed the survey would be undertaken through the National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC)

The issues that Survey will face

  1. NSKFDC would still be dependent on those very states that have until now denied the existence of this practice.
  2. Also, it has no mandate to demand data from the Railways, which is one of the largest employers of manual scavengers but refuses to acknowledge a single case.

Data Availability

  1. The only data available now is Socio-Economic Caste Census, which excludes sewer and septic tank cleaners as well as those employed in cities
  2. The SECC data shows that in villages alone, 1.82 lakh households have at least one member cleaning dry latrines


Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)

  1. SECC-2011 is the study of socioeconomic status of rural and urban households
  2. The Ministry of Rural Development Government of India commenced the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011, in June 2011 through a comprehensive door to door enumeration across the country
  3. SECC 2011 has three census components which were conducted by three separate authorities but under the overall coordination of Department of Rural Development in the Government of India.
  4. Census in Rural Area has been conducted by the Department of Rural Development (DoRD).
  5. Census in Urban areas is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA)
  6. Caste Census is under the administrative control of Ministry of Home Affairs: Registrar General of India (RGI) and Census Commissioner of India

Key Objectives:

  • To enable households to be ranked based on their socioeconomic status. State Governments can then prepare a list of families living below the poverty line
  • To make available authentic information that will enable caste-wise population enumeration of the country
  • To make available authentic information regarding the socioeconomic condition, and education status of various castes and sections of the population.
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