Manual scavenging: UP First, Chhattisgarh last in India


Over 58000 identified manual scavengers in the country

Excreta dropped from toilets of trains is another form of manual scavenging in India. (Photo/Pixabay)

Hardeep Singh Bedi

New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh has the highest and Chhattisgarh lowest number of manual scavengers in India.   

Manual scavenging refers to ‘manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or sewer or in a septic tank or a pit’.

Manual cleaning of railway lines of excreta dropped from toilets of trains is another form of manual scavenging in India.

Though there is a law in India that bans manual scavenging, the inhumane practice is prevalent in various parts of the country.  

A total of 32473 manual scavengers have been identified in Uttar Pradesh, said Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment Ramdas Athawale in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on April 5, 2022.

Chhattisgarh has the lowest number of manual scavengers in India with a total of three identified manual scavengers, Athawale informed.

Two surveys have been conducted at the initiative of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment during the years 2013 and 2018 for the identification of Manual Scavengers.

The Minister said that there are a total of 58098 identified manual scavengers in India.

With 6325 identified manual scavengers, Maharashtra is at the second spot.

Uttarakhand is at the third spot with 4988 identified manual scavengers.

There are four states in India that have over 1000 identified manual scavengers: Assam (3921), Karnataka (2927), Rajasthan (2673), and Andhra Pradesh (1793).

Excluding Chhattisgarh, nine states have less than 1000 identified manual scavengers: West Bengal (680), Kerala (518), Madhya Pradesh (510), Tamil Nadu (398), Punjab (231), Odisha (230), Jharkhand (192), Bihar (131), and Gujarat (105).

Athawale also informed that efforts are on to identify the manual scavengers left from identification.

He said that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has launched a mobile app ‘Swachhata Abhiyaan’ on December 24, 2020, to capture the data of insanitary latrines still existing and manual scavengers associated with them.

Any person can upload the data of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers on the mobile app. Thereafter, the data is verified by the concerned district administration.

The Minister said that, however, not a single insanitary latrine has been confirmed so far after the launch of the App.

India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR), but the data presented by the Minster shows that the law is not being implemented in letter and spirit in the country.  

The problem grabbed headlines on March 10 this year when three labourers, allegedly hired for manual scavenging, died in Mumbai after inhaling toxic fumes in a septic tank.

National Convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan Bezwada Wilson often highlights the issue on Twitter and flays the apathy of the Central as well as state governments.

“Sewers are fast becoming death pits! 14 Indian citizens have died inside sewers in last three days in four states, but criminal silence of people in power prevails. Parliament and state assemblies, all in session but not even a single voice raised! #stopkillingus #sewerdeaths,” he tweeted on March 30, 2022.  

In a tweet on July 31, 2021; he informed that 472 manual scavengers died between 2016 and 2020.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposes to completely mechanise the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and provides a legal basis for compensation to be provided for fatalities.

(The Writer is Editor, Politics Watch)

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