Hearing that ‘India has become the world’s fifth-largest economy and is one of the fastest-rising economies’ in the world gives immense contentment to every citizen of India. When we are in an epoch of technology, and India is making progress in various fields, competing with the most powerful nations (USA, China, and Japan) but it is still lacking in sanitation. The central government launched Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 which is a major step towards making better the status of sanitation in the country has been successful to an extent but the most barbarous and prohibited practice of ‘MANUAL SCAVENGING’ is still there in India.
Various reasons may be social or financial exist behind the continuity of manual scavenging, a practice of removing human excrete with the hands, which continually exposes them to the hazard of developing cardiovascular degeneration, osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc herniation. Considerable and welcoming efforts have been and are being taken to end this menace of society which exploits their fundamental right to live with dignity and leaves them with a stigma for the rest of their lives.
THE EFFORTS MADE FOR ERADICATING INHUMANE PRACTICE
- THE YEAR 1993: MANUAL SCAVENGING GETS BANNED:
After many efforts made by various commissions, committees and acts passed to improvise the situation of manual scavengers in India, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 was passed, for the first time, provided not only forbidding the employment of manual scavenging but the construction of dry latrines in the country also.
- THE YEAR 1994:
The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993 came into force with the provision for the formation of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis with various responsibilities. Its major function is to make suggestions to the government about the programmes or schemes or any other initiatives which can help in the elimination of discrimination in status, opportunities and facilities for Safai karamchari. It also evaluates the implementation of those programmes or schemes which are there for the social as well as economic rehabilitation of them.
- THE YEAR 2013:
AMENDMENTS TO THE 1993 ACT: After nearly 20 years of the ban on manual scavenging, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 was enacted with an overriding effect over the 1993 Act. The definition of the manual scavenger was expanded covering various aspects of the practice. The manual scavenger is defined as “someone who is employed by an individual or a local authority or an agency or on a contractual basis to manually clean, carry, dispose of, or otherwise handle in any manner, human excrement in an insanitary latrine or an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or other premises before the excreta wholly gets decomposed.” The act went a step ahead and added the provision for the punishment for employing someone for the purpose of manual cleaning of septic tanks or sewers.
SRMS (Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers) LAUNCHED: In the year 2007, this scheme was introduced for the first time but in 2013, it was revised in congruence with the provisions of the MS Act, 2013. Equipping the identified manual scavengers and their dependents with the assistance to rehabilitate them is the primary motive of this scheme.
- THE YEAR 2020
In 2020, the Union government proposed the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill which targets ultimately mechanising sewer cleaning, giving safety measures at work and reimbursing the victims. But it remains pending.
BUT WHERE DOES THE PROBLEM LIE?
Despite the prohibiting acts, schemes for rehabilitation and judgements to compensate the sufferers, the status of the lives of manual scavengers has not turned over a new leaf much due to various causes which include economic destitution, lack of skill, illiteracy, low enforcement level of the laws, social inequality and caste discrimination. Over 30 years have passed since the hazard of manual scavenging was prohibited in India in the year 1993, but the practical application of the government regulations and directions is not satisfactory due to the cases going underreported and the workers continuing to die in the septic tanks and sewers. Another reason behind the continued practice is the lack of seriousness in society towards manual sanitation work, which can play a considerable role in rehabilitating them and the effective implementation of the laws.
“Manual scavenging is not a career chosen voluntarily by workers but is instead a deeply unhealthy, unsavoury and undignified job forced upon these people because of the stigma attached to their caste. The nature of the work itself then reinforces that stigma.” And most significantly, the roots of manual scavenging lie in caste discrimination and the family hierarchy, which compels them to do the vicious work, which often gets aggravated by their financial situation.
RECENT STEPS BY THE GOVERNMENT
NAMASTE (National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem) SCHEME
The scheme was launched as a joint initiative of the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry and the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. It envisages equipping sanitation workers with alternative livelihood support and entitlements. To break the intergenerational aspect of this work, it envisions enabling them to get self-employed and shift towards skilled wage employment. It also focuses on bringing out behavioural change in society. The period for the scheme is of four years from 2022-23 to 2025-26.
The scheme will help reduce the number of death cases which occur due to the non-accessibility of the safety gears and machines. It will help them rehabilitate as it will extend the benefits of social security and insurance schemes along with livelihood assistance. The scheme will be helpful provided that the appropriate identification of manual scavengers is done throughout the country and ground-level efforts are put in for the elimination of this practice with proper coordination with the NGOs working for the same.
UNION BUDGET 2023-24
In the recently announced union budget on 1 February 2023, the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the central government has set a target to enable all cities and towns to fully mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers. In this year’s budget, while emphasising sanitation, the Social Justice Ministry has allocated ₹97.41 crores for the NAMASTE scheme and the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has allocated ₹5,000 crores for the Swachh Bharat Mission -Urban (2.0). These are embracing steps taken by the union government towards the aim of eradicating manual scavenging in the country.
As previously signified, the gravity of the issue of manual scavenging is high. As India is growing at a faster pace, it needs to include every citizen in its developing phase to achieve real development. Though various efforts have been put together by the government, they mostly remain non-impactful. The realistic application of the measures and terminating the caste prejudice affixed to sanitation work in India should be the pressing priority now. The government, as well as society, needs to be more serious and cooperative and to work together towards the rehabilitation of manual sanitation workers.
Author(s) Name: Gunjeeta (National Law Institute University, Bhopal)