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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 28 July 2023


Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 28 July 2023


Contents

  1. Manual Scavenging: India’s Social Justice Problem
  2. Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023: Concerns

Manual Scavenging: India’s Social Justice Problem


Context

  • According to the Ministry of Social Justice, 530 districts nationwide have proclaimed themselves free of manual scavenging.
  • However, there are still a sizable number of districts where manual scavenging occurs in numerous states and union territories, including Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand.

Relevance: 

GS Paper 2 – Social Justice

Mains Question

Discuss the difficulties in ending manual scavenging in some places, as well as the contribution of technology and hygienic improvements. Give a detailed plan for eradicating manual scavenging in India. (250 Words)


Do you know?

  • Despite regulatory restrictions and government initiatives, manual scavenging—a repugnant practise founded in caste-based discrimination—persists in India.This procedure entails the risky manual removal of human waste from septic tanks, sewers, dry latrines, and public roadways.
  • Tragically, several manual scavengers have perished while carrying out these risky duties.
  • The government has put in place a number of programmes and laws to rehabilitate manual scavengers and completely eliminate the practise in order to solve this serious problem. But problems still exist, calling for a thorough and determined approach.

Sadly, the statistics

  • The career of manual scavenger is extremely dangerous, as evidenced by the 989 deaths of scavengers during the past 29 years while cleaning subterranean sewage tanks.
  • Approximately 58,000 identified manual scavengers are being attempted to be rehabilitated through government programmes that offer compensation, capital subsidies, and other advantages.
  • In states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Assam, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, manual scavenging is very common.

Causes of Persistence

  • Caste-based prejudice is the main cause of the pervasive practise of manual scavenging. Over 90% of identified manual scavengers belonged to Scheduled Caste communities, according to data supplied by the government.
  • In addition, the lack of contemporary equipment for sewage system cleaning leads workers to manually penetrate hazardous subterranean sewerage lines, forcing people, particularly women, to maintain this risky activity in order to support their families. Unskilled workers are frequently employed illegally and paid less, which supports the practise.

Manual scavenging effects

  • Health Risks: Because they lack protective equipment and work in unsanitary settings, manual scavengers are exposed to dangerous materials and human waste, increasing their risk of respiratory infections and other illnesses.
  • Manual scavenging strips people of their dignity, maintains social shame, and strengthens caste-based discrimination.
  • Dignity and Human Rights Violations.
  • Psychological and emotional trauma: Due to the humiliation of their employment and the discrimination they experience, manual scavengers experience psychological discomfort, which results in low self-esteem and despair.

Initiatives by the government Legislative actions

  • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 penalises employers who use people for manual scavenging with jail time and penalties.
  • All manual cleaning, hauling, discarding, or handling of human waste is prohibited by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013.
  • Executive Initiatives
    • The 2017 Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), which will be a part of the NAMASTE Programme in 2022.
    • The NAMASTE Scheme, which aims to identify sewer/septic tank personnel and provides occupational training, PPE kits for distribution, health insurance, livelihood aid, and awareness campaigns.
    • The creation of District Sanitation Committees to help with the eradication of manual scavengers and unsanitary latrines.
    • The Swachata mobile app, which was introduced in 2016 and is used to receive and investigate complaints about alleged instances of manual scavenging.
  • Constitutional Protection
    • Article 21 of the Constitution protects the right to a dignified life.
    • Article 46 emphasises the State’s obligation to safeguard weaker groups, in particular Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, from exploitation and social injustice.
  • Other initiatives
    • Supreme Court Directives: Since 1993, the Supreme Court has ruled that families of manual scavengers who perished while working in sewage systems must receive compensation.
    • Rehabilitation Initiatives To rehabilitate manual scavengers and stop deaths in sewage work, many programmes offer one-time monetary payments, subsidies, and skill development programmes.
  • Technology-Driven Solutions:
    • Adopting technology, such as robotic sewer cleaning systems, can replace labor-intensive manual scavenging work and increase safety.
    • Fostering entrepreneurship and skill development: Giving former manual scavengers vocational training in a variety of professions can encourage them to consider alternate sources of income.
  • Improvements to the sanitation infrastructure: Putting money into cutting-edge latrines, sewage treatment facilities, and waste disposal systems will lessen the need for manual scavenging.

Problems encountered

  • The discovery and resolution of manual scavenging instances are hampered by underreporting and improper documentation.
  • The majority of cases are first discovered after fatal accidents, especially when workers pass away while cleaning septic tanks.
  • The conviction rate for contractors involved in unsafe sewage cleaning is distressingly low, demonstrating a lack of responsibility. Manual scavenging is common in metropolitan areas, where marginalised groups handle human and animal waste without proper safety gear or technical help.

Steps required

  • The purchase of equipment for septic and sewer tank cleaning that is safe.
  • Tighter oversight by local authorities to avoid fatalities.
  • The purchase of bio-toilets to lessen the need for hand scavenging and greater support for recovery initiatives.

Way ahead

  • To replace manual cleaning, one of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s main goals is to incorporate scientific maintenance of sewage tanks.
  • Offer victims of manual scavenging better access to healthcare, insurance, and pensions.
  • Strictly enforce current legislation to end manual scavenging forever.

Conclusion

A vital first step towards attaining social justice and respecting the dignity of all citizens is the elimination of manual scavenging. Even though the government has made a lot of progress, extensive and ongoing efforts are still needed to put an end to this cruel practise. India can progress towards a future free from the scourge of manual scavenging by addressing the underlying causes, offering workable alternatives, and enforcing strict regulations.


Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023: Concerns


Context:

  • The Lok Sabha just passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, which seeks to amend the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. Although the Preamble of the Bill sets forth admirable goals such as generating net zero emissions, developing a carbon sink, and enhancing the livelihoods of populations dependent on forests, its actual text poses serious issues.
  • The exclusion of large forest areas, the tightening of the definition of forests, and the imposition of sanctions on additional activities that were previously regulated are three major issues that environmental experts have identified. For the sake of preserving India’s natural ecosystems and advancing sustainable development, these concerns demand attention and clarification.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Government Interventions and Policies
  • GS Paper 3: Forest Conservation,

Mains Question

Discuss the main issues with the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 that environmental experts have raised. How can these worries affect India’s efforts to save its forests and forest cover? (150 Words)


Limiting Forests

The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 was infamous for its protectionist posture, which made getting forest clearances time-consuming and expensive. The latest modification, however, limits the application of the Act to those forests that were officially declared and documented by the government after October 25, 1980. The historic Godavarman judgement from 1996, which had expanded the reach of the 1980 Act to include places with trees rather than simply regions that were officially designated as forests, will be considerably limited in its application by the Bill.

1996 Godavarman ruling

  • T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad submitted a writ suit to the Supreme Court of India in 1995 to prevent illicit wood activities from destroying the Nilgiris forest land.The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 1981, which in India are responsible for the preservation of forests and the protection of wildlife, have been more strictly interpreted and put into practise as a result of the Godavarman Case.Around 28% of India’s forest cover, including forests of excellent quality and conservation value, may be impacted by this change.
  • Contrarily, States that have resisted identifying significant forest areas notwithstanding the Godavarman ruling might now be allowed to permit the destruction of these woods for building and development. For instance, despite previous protection, Unclassified Forests in Nagaland may today be vulnerable to extinction. Furthermore, environmentally important regions like the Aravalli Hills in the Delhi National Capital Region could suffer negative effects.

Fragile Ecosystems are not included:

The legislation grants exclusions for security-related infrastructure located within 100 km of international borders. Sadly, this leaves out environmentally delicate areas like the forests of northeastern India and the high-altitude forests and meadows of the Himalayas, which are renowned for their biodiversity. It is essential to sustain biodiversity and ecological balance in these delicate habitats.

Construction Project exclusions:

  • The amendment adds exclusions for certain types of construction projects, including zoos, safari parks, and eco-tourism facilities. Artificially made green spaces cannot replace natural ecosystems because they provide crucial ecosystem services.
  • In addition, the Bill gives the Union government the authority to specify “any desired use,” which raises worries about possible forest resource exploitation without adequate environmental review.

Disenfranchisement of Forest People:

  • The absence of references to other pertinent forest laws, like as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is a serious problem. The Bill disregards the engagement with the institutions representing forest people by excluding and redirecting forest regions.In contrast, empowering forest people can be crucial to growing forest cover and fulfilling net zero carbon targets, as demonstrated by Nepal’s achievement.
  • In the neighbouring nation of Nepal, it is believed that the transfer of forests to regional community forest user groups helped the nation’s forest cover rise from 26% to 45% in under three decades. It would be good to encourage the participation of forest people rather than disenfranchise them if India is to accomplish its net zero carbon targets and grow forest cover (as the Bill envisions in its Preamble).

Exclusions and Environmental Impact:

While streamlining administrative procedures is necessary, it is difficult to provide broad exclusions from regulatory rules. Natural ecosystems and forests are essential for the sustainability of the environment, not a luxury. As evidenced by recent occurrences in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, India’s northern borders, with the geologically active Himalayas, necessitate proper geological and environmental studies for all development initiatives.

Conclusion

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 must be carefully examined to close the gap between its admirable preamble and its potentially damaging operative clauses. It is crucial to take a comprehensive approach that incorporates broader definitions of forests, protections for vulnerable ecosystems, and the involvement of forest communities. Instead of destroying forests, sustainable development should establish a balance that guarantees the preservation of India’s natural legacy for future generations. India’s net zero carbon ambitions and the preservation of its priceless ecosystems can only be achieved via ethical and comprehensive conservation initiatives.


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