From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NAMASTE Scheme
Mains level : Sanitation workers and their upliftment
The Government has formulated a National Action Plan for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem- NAMASTE scheme for cleaning of sewers and septic tank.
- The scheme is a joint venture of Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
- It aims to achieve outcomes like:
- Zero fatalities in sanitation work in India
- No sanitation workers come in direct contact with human faecal matter
- All Sewer and Septic tank sanitation workers have access to alternative livelihoods
- The Ministry has shortlisted type of machineries and core equipments required for maintenance works, safety gear for Safai Mitras.
Why such move?
Ans. Prevalence of manual scavenging in India
What is Manual Scavenging?
- 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.
- 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.