In this piece, I am going to talk about the miseries faced by manual scavengers. Many of them have to risk their lives for a monetary benefit to run their livelihood. Is the government really serious on this issue? I will try to discuss the same in this piece.
A video of Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi washing the feet of five sanitation workers had gone very viral. Entire country praised the step taken. The video have so far received 590.5 thousand views, 23.7 thousand retweets and 66 thousand likes. But is washing the feet, the only step government needed to take for their welfare?
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 defines 'manual scavenger' as "a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta". It also provides that employing a manual scavenger is criminal offence.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 gives a more detailed definition of manual scavenger. "manual scavenger" means a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or a State Government may notify, before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be prescribed, and the expression "manual scavenging" shall be construed accordingly.
In a reply to an RTI Appeal filed be me with National Safai Karmacharis Finance and Development Corporation, it has revealed that the Number of Manual Scavengers identified between 2013 to April 20, 2020 in 17 states is 63,499. The States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand have the highest number of manual scavengers, as 35472, 7378 and 6170 respectively. The state of Uttar Pradesh has more than half of the total manual scavengers identified throughout India. The States having lowest number of manual scavengers are Chattisgarh, Gujarat and Bihar, as 3, 108 and 137 respectively.
The reply further stated that NSKFDC under its Swachhta Udyami Yojana (SUY) provides financial assistance to its target group for procurement and operation of sanitation related equipments. NSKFDC has so far disbursed an amount of 65.39 Crores to its Channelizing Agencies for extending financial assistance to 1798 beneficiaries from the target group of NSKFDC.
It also stated that the scheme has been recently modified (during FY 2019-20) to also provide financial assistance to Municipal Corporation/ Municipalities for procurement of sanitation related equipments to minimise manual hazardous cleaning and promote mechanized cleaning. NSKFDC has so far disbursed an amount of Rs. 31.96 Crores to 21 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) for procurement of 247 units of sanitation related equipments.
Section 7 of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides "No person, local authority or any agency shall, from such date as the State Government may notify, which shall not be later than one year from the date of commencement of this Act, engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank." Section 9 provides for contravention of Section 7 as "Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 7 shall for the first contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both, and for any subsequent contravention with imprisonment which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees, or with both.
If we refer to the records, the funds provided are sufficient for rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Because of lack of funds and inefficiency in implementation of laws, time and again news comes into light regarding death of manual scavengers. The Minster of Social Justice and empowerment had stated that manual scavenging led to the death of 282 people between 2016 and November 2019.
Manual Scavenging is a very serious concern. Despite the laws made by the parliament, no effective implementation of law has taken place and still many unprivileged are being engaged in this kind of work. The government needs to be more serious on this issue and take steps for effective implementation of laws.