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Government’s denial of manual scavenging deaths

Context:

India’s Social Justice Minister, in a writer reply in the Rajya Sabha, said that no deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging in the last five years.

Activists have refuted this statement as “inhuman and cruel”, saying that said 472 people had died in five years due to manual scavenging.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to Poverty, Minorities, Welfare Schemes, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Manual Scavenging in India
  2. Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India
  3. Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour
  4. National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

Manual Scavenging in India

  • Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers”.
  • In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), however, the stigma and discrimination associated with it still linger on.

Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India

  • As per the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a total of 631 people have died in the country while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last 10 years.
  • 2019 saw the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years. 110 workers were killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
  • This is a 61% increase as compared to 2018, which saw 68 cases of such similar deaths.
  • Despite the introduction of several mechanised systems for sewage cleaning, human intervention in the process still continues.
  • As per data collected in 2018, 29,923 people are engaged in manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, making it the highest in any State in India.

Why is manual scavenging still a concern after so many years?

  • A number of independent surveys have talked about the continued reluctance on the part of state governments to admit that the practice prevails under their watch.
  • Many times, local bodies outsource sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors. However, many of them fly-by-night operators, do not maintain proper rolls of sanitation workers. In case after case of workers being asphyxiated to death, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.
  • The practice is also driven by caste, class and income divides. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job.

Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour

  1. Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers; more than 90% people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste. This became an important landmark to free manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.
  2. The 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.
  3. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees ‘Right to Life’ and that also with dignity. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry’s National Action Plan aims to modernise existing sewage system and coverage of non-sewered areas; setting up of faecal sludge and septage management system for mechanised cleaning of septic tanks, transportation and treatment of faecal sludge; equipping the municipalities, and setting up of Sanitation Response Units with help lines.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • As a part of the Ministry’s National Action Plan, this bill will amend the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • The bill proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning and provide better protection at work and compensation in case of accidents.
  • The Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging more stringent by increasing the imprisonment term and the fine amount.
  • The funds will be provided directly to the sanitation workers and not to the municipalities or contractors to purchase the machinery.

Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge

  • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge across 243 Cities to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of ‘hazardous cleaning’.
  • The Challenge was launched on the occasion of World Toilet Day.
  • Aims to prevent ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks and promoting their mechanized cleaning.
  • Representatives from 243 cities across the country took a pledge to mechanize all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by 30th April 2021.
  • The initiative is in line with the core of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U)
  • The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on 15 August 2021.
  • Cities will be awarded in three sub-categories – with population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and upto 3 lakhs, with a total prize money of ₹52 crores to be given to winning cities across all categories.

-Source: The Hindu

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