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According to Harsh Mander “One of modern India’s great shames is the official failure to eradicate ‘manual scavenging’, the most degrading surviving practise of untouchability in the country.” Manual scavenging is prevalent in India, despite the law’s strict prohibitions. Caste, class, and


According to Harsh Mander “One of modern India’s great shames is the official failure to eradicate ‘manual scavenging’, the most degrading surviving practise of untouchability in the country.”[1] Manual scavenging is prevalent in India, despite the law’s strict prohibitions. Caste, class, and economic divisions drive manual scavenging. Over the last several years, the number of people dying while cleaning sewers and septic tanks have surged. The government outlawed any sort of manual cleaning, dumping, or handling of human waste in 2013, yet 58,098 manual scavengers were recently discovered in India, according to a nationwide survey[2]. Despite the development of various automated sewage-cleaning devices, human involvement persists.


Before we delve deeper into the topic, first, let’s discuss what exactly is manual scavenging. The cleanup of human waste from public streets and dry latrines, as well as the cleaning of septic tanks, gutters, and sewers, is referred to as manual scavenging. The activity of manually collecting human excreta from sewers or septic tanks is known as manual scavenging. People who clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks were added to the definition of manual scavengers in 2013. Manual scavenging is a very prominent issue in India.


The Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993[3] prohibits sanitation employees from manually collecting human faeces. Manual scavenging, on the other hand, is a well-kept secret in Indian culture. It is fairly common and continues to be a source of income for many people. Manual scavengers are one of the poorest and most marginalised groups on the planet. Even in major cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai, where many of us have observed the horrible labour of physically cleaning septic tanks and sewer systems, the crime goes unreported. Several state governments have even established hotlines to report manual scavenging instances. Regardless, the reception to it has been underwhelming. Sanitation workers have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, according to research performed by the Centre for Education and Communication[4] in Delhi in 2005 (involving 200 employees). Few of them live beyond 60, and the number of people over 50 is on the decline.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) had filed a study[5] stating that workers avoided wearing safety equipment such as masks and gloves because they were inconvenient to use and of low quality. Toxic gases such as ammonia, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide can be found in sewers and septic tanks. Coming into touch with them might render them unconscious or perhaps kill them. Cardiovascular degeneration, musculoskeletal diseases, infections, leptospirosis, skin difficulties, and respiratory system problems are all risks for manual scavengers.[6] Because hand scavenging causes co-morbidities like the ones listed above, it puts patients at a higher risk of contracting many viruses like the Covid-19 virus.


This practice is influenced by caste, class, and economic divides. It is linked to India’s caste system, which assigns this work to the so-called lower castes. Although India outlawed the employment of manual scavengers and the construction of dry latrines in 1993 (The employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines prohibition act, 1993[7]), the stigma and prejudice connected with it still persist.

This makes finding alternative sources of income for liberated manual scavengers challenging.[8] The four varnas that founded the caste hierarchy are the brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Shudras, according to the 3000-year-old caste system. Within these varnas, there were thousands of sub-groups. Each of these sub-groups was assigned a distinct vocation. The untouchables were the lowest caste in this structure. People from this caste were regarded as distinct from the other varnas. They were frequently regarded as outsiders. Dealing with unclean waste and other issues was one of the main reasons for treating them differently. They were also known as ‘Bhangi’, which is a Sanskrit term that means ‘broken.’ The Hindi equivalent of the word ‘Bhangi’ is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, this practice is still common and underreported to this day.


Manual scavengers have a tough time seeking other jobs due to the stigma and discrimination connected with their profession. Due to a dearth of such opportunities, many people are unable to support their families. Many latrines around the nation are still linked to open sewers and septic tanks that require manual cleaning on a regular basis. Even when state governments supply suction machines to various municipal corporations as a viable option, individuals choose to hire hand scavengers.


The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020[9]:

  • It proposes that sewage cleaning be completely mechanised, that ‘on-site’ protection mechanisms be employed, and that manual scavengers be compensated in the case of sewer deaths.
  • It is yet to be approved by the t

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013[10]:

  • The 2013 Act, which replaces the 1993 Act, extends the restriction on dry latrines to include any manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or

The Building and Maintenance of Insanitary Latrines Act of 2013:

  • It outlaws the construction or maintenance of filthy toilets, as well as the hiring of anybody to perform manual scavenging or hazardous sewage and septic tank cleaning.
  • As restitution for historical injustice and indignity, it also establishes a constitutional obligation to give alternative occupations and other help to manual scavenging

Prevention of atrocities act, 1989[11]:

  • The Prevention of Atrocities Act was adopted in 1989 as integrated protection for sanitation workers, with the Scheduled Caste accounting for more than 90% of those employed as manual scavengers. This was a turning point in the campaign to free manual scavengers from their jobs.

Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge[12]:

  • On World Toilet Day, (19th November 2020) the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge.
  • The government issued a “challenge” to all states to automate sewage cleanup by April 2021; if a person is forced to enter a sewer system in an unavoidable situation, they must be provided with appropriate gear and oxygen tanks, among other things.

Swachhta Abhiyan App[13]:

  • The ‘Swachhta Abhiyan App’ was developed to identify, locate, and geo-tag data on unhygienic latrines and manual scavengers so that unclean latrines may be replaced with sanitary latrines and all manual scavengers can be rehabilitated to live with dignity.

SC Judgment[14]:

  • According to a Supreme Court ruling from 2014, Since 1993, the government has been required to identify all those who have died while working in the sewage system and compensate their families with Rs. 10 lakhs each.


The steps that can be taken –

  • Identification: Employees working in the cleaning of hazardous waste must be counted accurately by the states.
  • Strengthen local authorities: The Swachh Bharat Mission is a top priority issue for the 15th Finance Commission, and funds are made available for smart cities and urban development, providing a strong case for tackling the problem of manual scavenging.
  • Social awareness: To minimize the social stigma associated with manual scavenging, it is critical to first establish and then evaluate how and why it is rooted in the caste system.
  • State and society must take an active interest: The state and society must take an active interest in the issue and investigate all available possibilities in order to correctly assess and eradicate this behaviour.
  • The need for a strict law: There is a dire need to amend or replace the existing laws as they have proven to be ineffective. There is a need for a stringent law that would help India to eliminate the menace of manual scavenging completely. The rights of manual scavengers will no longer be jeopardized if a law imposes a statutory duty on the part of governmental bodies to provide sanitary services.


The act of manually treating human excreta has a stigma as well. In Indian society, their families experience a lot of discrimination. The way ahead is for the courts to step in and examine how widespread manual scavenging is. When the practice is seen, society as a whole should take special note of it and report it to the authorities. There are several mechanizations that can be used to replace the physical handling of faeces. All people who indulge in this despicable activity must be rehabilitated and informed about the health risks associated with it. The government’s proclivity for under-reporting must be examined thoroughly. The government must guarantee that compensation is properly distributed to the appropriate families in the event of death. To eradicate the behaviour from the root level, different officials must be involved, and community activities must be actively encouraged.

 Author(s) Name: Palash Varyani (Institute of Law, Nirma University)


[1] India’s great shame

[2] Manual Scavenging (PIB)

[3] The Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993

[4] Indian government has built 95 million toilets, but little has changed for manual scavengers

[5] Socioeconomic Status of Scavengers Engaged in the Practice of Manual Scavenging in Maharashtra

[6] Occupational health hazards in sewage and sanitary workers

[7] the employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry

latrines (prohibition) act, 1993

[8] Breaking Free: Rehabilitating Manual Scavengers

[9] Banning manual scavenging in India: A long, complex passage

[10] the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their

rehabilitation act, 2013

[11] Prevention of atrocities act, 1989

[12] Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge

[13] Swachhta Abhiyan App

[14] Apex court says pay Rs 10 lakh to dead sewer workers’ families