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The Perils of Manual Scavenging


  • All cleaning jobs are regarded as demeaning and are assigned to people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The majority of Dalits work in sanitation as manual scavengers, drain cleaners, garbage collectors, and road sweepers.
  • According to government data, 97 percent of manual scavengers in India are Dalits.
  • Despite the fact that manual scavenging is illegal under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers Act of 2013, the inhumane practise continues.


GS Paper 2: Protection of vulnerable sections of the society

Mains Question

Although manual scavenging is illegal in India, the inhumane practise persists. Analyze critically. (150 Words)

Manual scavenging: Harsh Indian Reality

  • Inefficient Sewage Management System: Because most municipalities in India do not have the most up-to-date machines for cleaning sewage systems, sewage workers must enter underground sewerage lines through manholes.
  • Meanwhile, unskilled labourers are much cheaper to hire, and contractors illegally employ them on a daily basis.
  • Ineffective Policy Implementation: Government programmes have primarily focused on the financial aspect of rehabilitation, failing to address the caste-based oppression and related social conditions that have persisted for centuries.
  • Furthermore, no proper strategies have been proposed to psychologically liberate manual scavengers. This encourages those involved in the practise to delve even deeper into manual scavenging.
  • Lack of Social Mobility: Manual scavengers are compelled to work because of a lack of basic amenities, education, and employment opportunities, and society does not accept them for community activities.
  • Nobody wants to hire them, and landlords won’t let them rent their homes. This exposes them to danger and prevents them from moving up the strata.

Manual Scavenging’s Effects

  • Social Discrimination: Because of the nature of their work, most manual scavengers are stigmatised by the community.
  • They are considered untouchable and are forced to accept their situation.
  • This issue is much more serious because their children are also discriminated against and forced to work in the same jobs as their parents.
  • Inequalities Based on Caste: The caste is still regarded as a lower class and is barred from advancing to a better occupation.
  • As a result, scavenging is regarded as a natural occupation for them.
  • Furthermore, marginal castes from rural areas who move to cities in search of a better life always end up in the same occupation.
  • Problems with Health: The scavengers are exposed to gases such as carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane. Long-term exposure to these gases can cause serious health problems or even death.
  • They are also exposed to various infections in the sewer, which is common due to the large number of bacteria that live in sewers.
  • According to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) database, 608 manual scavengers died while cleaning septic tanks between 2013 and 2017.

Steps taken to combat the scourge of manual scavenging

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill 2020, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 The Building and Maintenance of Insanitary Latrines Act of 2013, The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989

How Can We Prevent Manual Scavenging?

  • Manual scavenging is a violation of human rights as well as a disgrace to humanity as a whole. To ensure effective policy implementation, state governments should prioritise identifying workers who clean toxic sludge.
  • Proactive Stakeholder Involvement: In order to address this issue, all of the major skateholders must be involved.
  • They include District Administrative Officers, Chief Medical Officers, NGOs, and Municipal Corporations, among others.
  • It is also critical to include the community surrounding the most affected areas in the programme.
  • Seeking information from officials and the community will assist in making an informed decision about how to proceed with the initiative.
  • Mass Awareness: Holding a workshop with locals would help officials spread awareness about the legal ramifications of scavenging and using dry toilets, as well as understand the root cause of the practise.
  • The awareness campaigns should not only address the dangers of scavenging, but also provide an alternative means of income for the affected community.
  • Locals may also be permitted to propose solutions with which they are familiar.
  • Rehabilitation and Compensation for Manual Scavengers: One of the most important rehabilitation processes is the creation of more employment.
  • The jobs created would aim to give locals equal opportunities. The jobs created also serve to integrate manual scavengers into the community.
  • A Supreme Court order in 2014 required the government to identify all those who died in sewage work since 1993 and compensate their families with Rs. 10 lakh each.
  • Investing in Proper Human Waste Management: Solving solid and liquid waste segregation issues, as well as municipal bio composting, are some of the ways we can use waste for the benefit of humanity.
  • Manual scavenging will be reduced in the future as waste is treated as an asset rather than a liability, paving the way for Swacch Bharat and Swasth Bharat.
  • Robotic Scavenging: Using robotics and artificial intelligence, machines that can replace humans in manual labour can be created.
  • Bandicoot is one such robotic machine designed to clean any type of sewer manhole.
  • Towards Social Integration: Scavenging work earns little money, which is insufficient to educate a child. The child eventually drops out and joins their parents in their line of work.
  • Implementing schemes to assist these children in completing their studies would be an effective strategy for dispelling the theories and myths associated with manual scavenging.

The Way Forward

  • Empowering Local Administration: The 15th Finance Commission identified the Swachh Bharat Mission as a top priority area, and funds are available for smart cities and urban development, making a strong case for addressing the problem of manual scavenging.
  • To address the social sanction behind manual scavenging, it is necessary to first acknowledge and then understand how and why manual scavenging remains embedded in the caste system.
  • The state and society must take an active interest in the issue and investigate all possible solutions in order to accurately assess and eventually eradicate this practise.

February 2024