MANUAL SCAVENGING - FORBIDDEN BY LAW! FORGOTTEN BY SOCIETY!
Updated: Jan 6
Author: Gemma Maria Suzzana
Do you think the manual scavenging prohibition act functional? My answer to the question is no. Manual scavenging is a crucial practice that exists in India. It is the process of eliminating human excreta from unsanitary latrines with bare hands. Manual scavenging is a cruel and intolerable practice that exists in a country that has sent a satellite to Mars. It is very pathetic to see where the nation is technologically well versed in launching satellites but underdeveloped when it comes to its citizens to eliminate human excreta with bare hands. Do you think our ancestors in ancient times practice manual scavenging in India?
Yes, the practice dates back to ancient times. Our ancestors practiced manual scavenging in India. In ancient India, society was divided based on caste. A person's caste was determined through the job or occupation he had been doing. People who were considered as low castes were made to remove human excreta. Years back, the people from low castes were considered untouchables and were excluded from society. They are still considered untouchables and are deprived of society. It will be horrible in rural areas where they have a separate street or colony for the deprived section of society. They do not get proper education and other societal benefits such as provisions from ration stores, and most of the people from that community do not have community certificates and family cards. Their children do not get a quality education because of their economic instability. Their children are also not treated equally, just because his or her father or mother is a manual scavenger. Do you think appointing a manual scavenger to eliminate the human excreta or to clear the block in the sewer or septic tanks an offense? Is manual scavenging banned in India? Is there any legislation to protect the plight of manual scavengers?
Let me answer the above questions from below. Yes, there is legislation that has banned manual scavenging, and it says that appointing an individual who is most probably a manual scavenger to remove the human excreta or to clear the block in the septic tank is an offense.
Let me now move on to legislation that was enacted to benefit, and but in reality, that is not the scenario.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The act is not functional, and the act lost its scope. It is because of the drawback in the executive portion of the act. To add one fun fact to this is, most of our ministers, government officials, and the manual scavengers themselves are unaware of the act. It is not an awful state to laugh and rejoice in but rather a woeful state to feel ashamed of. Even many of us are not aware of the above-mentioned legislation. So, now let me give a small gist about the said Manual Scavenging Act 2013.
Before the present manual scavenging act 2013, there was earlier legislation called, Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) act 1993. It got amended, and as a result, the present legislation came into force. A question may pop your mind now, why an earlier 1993 legislation gets amended?
Both the earlier legislation and the present legislation are against manual scavenging, and both the legislations ban the practice of manual scavenging in India. But as of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, an advocacy group based in Indore which is working for complete eradication of manual scavenging, says that both the legislation differs in perspectives. He explained the difference between the two acts. The earlier act was from the sanitation perspective, and the ministry of housing and poverty alleviation was supervising it. The law did not fix the state liability. So, many states did not even formulate rules under the act, claiming their states are free of manual scavenging. The new Bill looks at manual scavenging from the perspective of restoring human dignity and human rights, and talks about rehabilitation, and was drafted by the ministry of social justice and empowerment. So this is how both the legislations get differentiated.
Do you think the current Manual Scavenging Act 2013 punishes the occupier of a latrine if it is not kept clean? Do you think the current Manual Scavenging act 2013 punish the person or the contractor or the company for appointing a manual scavenger to remove the human excreta or to clear the block in the sewer or septic tank?
As earlier said, the present Manual Scavenging act 2013 bans the practice of manual scavenging in India, and it considers appointing a person to remove the human excreta with bare hands or to clear the block in the sewer or septic tank as an offense. It also makes a contract void if any party to the contract appoints a manual scavenger to eliminate the human excreta with bare hands or to clear the block in the septic tank or the sewer. It is also to noted that the said act considers a person as a manual scavenger only if he/ she removes human excreta with bare hands. If he/ she removes the human waste or removes the block in the sewer or septic tank using any gadgets provided by the occupier, such would come under the purview of the manual scavenger. Section 8 of the act punishes a person for having unsanitary latrines and for appointing a manual scavenger to dispose of the human excreta with bare hands, and awards one-year imprisonment or fine up to 50,000 rupees or with both, if he has contravened the provisions for the first time. For subsequent contravention, 2-years imprisonment or a fine up to 1 lakh or with both. Section 9 of the act punishes the person for appointing a manual scavenger to clean the hazardous sewer or septic tank by awarding 2-years imprisonment or a fine up to 2 lakhs or with both. For subsequent contravention, there will be 5-years imprisonment or a fine up to 5 lakhs or with both.
Section 22 of the act considers any offense committed by any person under the act as cognizable and non-bailable. This act also provides the means and measures for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. The Manual Scavenging Act 2013 imposes a duty on the district magistrate and the authorized officers to ensure that there is no manual scavenger employed in the prescribed locality and to punish the persons under sec 8 and 9 of the act. Most importantly, this act under sec 21 makes the state government confer the powers of a judicial magistrate of the first class to an executive magistrate to try a case relating to manual scavenging. Further, section 21 of the act says that the offenses under the act must be tried summarily. This act also appoints inspectors, vigilant committees, state monitoring committees to ensure that there is no manual scavenger and to ensure whether the provisions of the act, are followed without any contraventions. This act also constitutes a National Commission for Safai Karamcharis. and also confers power to the state government to designate an appropriate authority to monitor the implementation of the act. Does this act have any shortcomings? Do you think that the Manual Scavenging Act 2013 functional? What makes the act non-functional?
The answer to the above three questions is the act is non-functional, and the executive portion of the act is not done properly. The National Commission for SafaiKaramcharis releases a report about manual scavengers in the country and the implementation of the act annually. The annual report of 2018-2019 says that the execution and implementation of the act were not properly done, and also it says the act is non-functional. The report says that the practice of manual scavenging is not abolished, and it is still in practice, although it is an offense and it is banned. The report tells that the person who appoints an individual as a manual scavenger is not punished. It is a violation of the act. It also says that social discrimination based on caste, that only a particular community must do the work of manual scavenging is still prevailing in the country. Because of this caste discrimination, the people from that particular community do not get any other job or occupation other than manual scavenging, and they are also deprived out of education, which pushes them to the end to choose manual scavenging for their livelihood. The commission report says that in most of the states and union territories, the State monitoring committees and district, sub-district level vigilant committees had not been constituted, to monitor and implement the provisions of the act.
Besides, the number of manual scavengers in the country has been increasing rapidly. The comparison table will show the increase in manual scavengers in each state between 2013 and 2018:
S.No State / UT As per survey 2013 As per survey 2018
1. Andhra Pradesh 78 1982
2. Assam 154 542
3. Bihar 137 0
4. Chhattisgarh 3 0
5. Gujarat 0 108
6. Jharkhand 0 201
7. Karnataka 732 1754
8. Kerala 0 600
9. Madhya Pradesh 36 562
10. Maharashtra 0 7298
11. Odisha 237 0
12. Punjab 91 142
13. Rajasthan 338 2590
14. Tamil Nadu 363 62
15. Uttar Pradesh 12095 17828
16. Uttarakhand 137 4787
17. West Bengal 104 637
Total 14505 39093
From the above table, it is clear that there is a big increase in the number of manual scavengers between 2013-18. Now we are in 2020, and it can be noted that there is a big rise in the number of manual scavengers in the country.
“Don’t you dare to pick up a ball fell into the ditch, No, right?”
“Here come our real superheroes who dare their life to work in the sewers”
Another such issue observed by the commission is the sewer deaths that occur across the country. Manually cleaning sewers are banned by the law and punishable under the act. Because of the failure to implement the provisions of the act the practice of manually cleaning sewers is still in practice. Sewer deaths are ignored by the urban local bodies, municipalities, and state governments. The practice of manually cleaning the sewer is one of the main observations by the commission, and it is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. It is noted that as of 2019, 110 manual scavengers died in sewers by inhaling the poisonous gases emanating from the sewers. Sewer deaths occurring across the country is mainly because of a lack of knowledge about the legislation and guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India. It is also because of the failure to implement the provisions of the act. It was noted by the commission that the families of the deceased person (manual scavenger died in sewers) are not compensated properly by the state government. They are not given risk allowance, pensions, and other beneficiary schemes. Most importantly, the manual scavengers are not equipped with the safety requirements before entering the manholes and sewers. Similarly, manual scavengers working in railways and other public domains are not provided with the necessary safety gadgets such as gloves, masks, boots, etc. They are also deprived of minimum wages and also of their wages for the work done. So here, we can see a complete violation of the labor act. The commission has pointed out that no attention has been given to the health of the manual scavengers. Regular medical checkups are not being conducted to check the health of the manual scavengers. Safai Karamcharis who are sweeping the streets, cleaning the roads, handling filth, garbage, dead animals are more prone to health ailments. Their health is deteriorating day by day. Even though
they use safety requirements; they get exposed to fatal diseases. To be true many of the SafaiKaramcharis are not provided with safety requirements, which makes them more prone to infections. Manual scavengers who are working in sewers are in direct contact with filthy water, and so they are get infected easily. Due to unhygienic working conditions, generally, the manual scavengers get diseases relating to lungs, eyes, ears, and skin, and TB. In short, it can be apt to say that the normal life span of manual scavengers has been decreased.
Another one important area covered by the commission is that the education of SafaiKaramcharis and their children. In most of the cases, compulsory education to the SafaiKaramcharis and their children are not being provided. Most safaikaramcharis are illiterates who do not know to read and write. Their children are not treated well and discriminated against based on caste in the schools. Generally, manual scavengers have completed only the 12th of 10th standard and forcibly pushed to do manual scavenging due to economic reasons. Do you think the manual scavengers get rehabilitated?
The commission, in its annual report of 2018-19 said that in most of the states, the manual scavengers are liberated but not rehabilitated. Manual scavengers are generally cut off from the mainstream of progress and subjected to the worst kind of oppression and dignities. It is the most horrible condition that manual scavenging is still a hereditary occupation in India. The commission has observed that the state government, urban local bodies, and the municipalities are not playing a pro-active role in fulfilling the vision of the Manual Scavenging act 2013, which provides for the total eradication of manual scavenging from the country. Is there any other method of cleaning sewers other than manual cleaning?
Yes, there is a device called BANDICOOT, a machine that cleans sewers and manholes. Bandicoot is a spider-shaped robot with the precision that cleans manholes and sewers. It is designed and developed by nine engineers from a company called Genrobotics, four years ago. This robot takes 15 minutes to clean small sewers and 45 minutes to unclog large ones. The bandicoot is a ray of hope for the country, which needs only one person to operate. The 80 kg robot lifts the upper metal cover, drops its arm into the manhole, scoops out the solid waste, and dumps in the bucket. We can observe the complete operation in a monitor. Genrobotics plans to teach the manual scavengers how to use the bandicoot to rehabilitate them. Vimal Govind a 25 years old chief executive officer from Genrobotics said that their ultimate aim is to eradicate manual scavenging and also it is time to change manholes to robo holes. He added that bandicoot would make the life of manual scavenger’s safe, and it will also help them earn a decent living without fear of losing lives and jobs, and it will break the caste system in India. Bandicoot will ensure manholes in India will remain clean without losing human lives. Apart from Kerala, as of now, bandicoot has been installed in 10 states in India, which are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. Every citizen must keep the public latrines clean after using it. They have to maintain cleanliness after using public toilets. It is this small act of common sense which adds dignity to the life of manual scavengers and makes the country free from infection and insanitation. To manage the insanitation problem, the government can make use of the methane gas from the sewers, dump yards, and gutters to produce electricity instead of digging the earth and spoiling the agricultural lands.
Section 33 of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 says that it is the duty of state government, local authorities, and other agencies to use modern and appropriate technologies to clean sewers and manholes. Therefore, the government has to use bandicoot and other modern technologies to eradicate manual scavenging, and the government has to take measures to rehabilitate the life of manual scavengers. Also, the government or the appropriate authorities has to implement the provisions of the Manual Scavenging Act 2013 properly for the betterment of the lives of manual scavengers.
See https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/manual-scavenging-prohibition-bill-how-effective-42151 See https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_25_35_00008_201325_1517807327789§ionId=12171§ionno=8&orderno=8 See https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_25_35_00008_201325_1517807327789&orderno=9 See https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_25_35_00008_201325_1517807327789§ionId=12185§ionno=22&orderno=22 See https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_25_35_00008_201325_1517807327789&orderno=21 Seehttps://www.nskfdc.nic.in/en/content/eligibility-criteria/safai-karmchari See https://www.ncsk.nic.in/sites/default/files/NCSK_Annual-Report18-19.pdf Ibid., 168, 169. See https://www.news18.com/news/india/110-deaths-due-to-manual-scavenging-in-2019-minister-tells-rajya-sabha-2541793.html See https://scroll.in/article/869900/kerala-engineers-who-developed-robot-to-clean-manholes-are-on-a-mission-to-end-manual-scavenging See https://www.onmanorama.com/news/kerala/2020/02/19/bandicoot-manhole-cleaning-robot-kerala-engineers-win-infosys-award.html See https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_25_35_00008_201325_1517807327789§ionId=12196§ionno=33&orderno=3