Manual scavenging

Manual scavenging

  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice that involves physically removing human excreta from dry toilets and sewers with bare hands, brooms, buckets, baskets, and metal scrapers.
  • The practice of manual scavenging is a caste-centred and heritable profession and the worst surviving symbol of caste untouchability in our country, as only the so-called lower caste is expected to do the job.
  • The manual scavengers are among India's poorest, most marginalized, and disadvantaged communities.
  • India banned the practice of manual scavenging under the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their rehabilitation act 2013( PEMSR).
  • According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of social justice and empowerment, the number of deaths attributable to manual scavenging was reported to be 282 in 3 years spanning 2016-2019.
  • One manual scavenger has died every five days in India since January 2017
  • As per the report of census 2011- 
    • Around 1,80,657 households are engaged in manual scavenging work for a livelihood.
    • 7,94 390 dry latrines where the human excreta is cleaned manually, of which 73% are in rural areas.

Constitutional provision

  • Articles 14 and 15 
  • Article 17
  • Article 23

Statutory safeguards-

  • The employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines (prohibition) act 1993-
    • The government banned the employment of individuals as manual scavengers for manually cleaning dry latrines and constructing dry toilets.
  • The prohibition of employment of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation act 2013-
    • This act has been enacted to give wider protection to manual scavengers.
    • The act intends to eliminate insanitary latrines and prohibits employment as manual scavengers and hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
    • The 1993 act only people cleaning dry latrines recognized manual scavengers. However, the 2013 act widened the definition of who could be a manual scavenger and included people cleaning septic tanks and railway tracts under the category of a manual scavenger.
    • Every offence under this act shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
  • The scheduled caste and scheduled tribes (prevention of atrocities act) 2015 provides severe punishments and more protection for the scheduled caste and the scheduled tribes.
  • Protection of civil rights act 1955- enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability is treated as an offence. 

Schemes for the welfare of manual scavengers-

  • Integrated development of small and medium town scheme(1969)-
  • National Scheme for the Liberation of Scavengers and Their dependents(1992)- has been implemented by all public sector banks since 1993 to liberate all scavengers and their dependents from their existing hereditary and obnoxious occupation of manually removing night soil and filth and to provide for and engage them in alternative and dignified occupations within five years.  
  • Total Sanitation Campaign (1999). - 
    • Created by the Ministry of Rural Development GoI in 1999 to enhance the general quality of life in rural regions and expedite sanitation coverage in rural areas through access to toilets for all by 2012.
  • Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan- a national campaign for dignity and eradicating manual scavenging, launched by Jan Sahas in 2001.
  • Scheme for self-employment for rehabilitation of manual scavengers- revised in 2013
  • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (2014).- as a part of this program, the government is constructing more septic tanks for toilets in rural and urban areas.
  • Safaimitra Suraksha challenge (2020)- 
    • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched the scheme on world toilet day in November 2020.
    • The government issued this as a "challenge" for all states to automate sewage cleaning by April 2021
    • If someone enters a sewer line due to an unforeseen emergency, appropriate safety equipment, such as oxygen tanks, must be available.
  • Swachta Abhiyan app- 
    • It has been designed to identify and geotag the data of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers to replace unsanitary latrines with sanitary ones and rehabilitate all manual scavengers so they can live with dignity.
  • Supreme Court directive on manual scavenging-
    • In 2014, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed all the states to abolish manual scavenging in all forms and take steps to rehabilitate manual scavengers.
    • Accordingly, the court instituted a compensation of rs 10 lakhs for families of persons who died due to manual scavenging.
    • Besides, the apex court has also directed the railways to take time bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks.
  • The Ministry of social justice and empowerment has prepared the national action plan for the financial year 2020-21, which includes the following-
    • One Time cash assistance to the manual scavengers is expected to be identified.
    • Skill development training.
    • Capital subsidy for self-employment projects
    • Health cum awareness camps.
    • Behavioural training( upskilling program)
    • Subsidy component of loans to manual scavengers, sanitation workers involved in hazardous cleaning, and their dependents for purchasing small machines for mechanized sewers and septic tanks.
    • Campaign to create awareness about the Manual Scavengers act of 2013, self-employment schemes for rehabilitating manual scavengers, and mechanized cleaning.


  • Caste-based occupation - this activity of manual scavenging still relates to caste-based occupation related to the Dalit population.
  • The government still lacks concrete data-
    •  How many manual scavengers still exist in India, and what is the policy outcome dealing with those manual scavengers is.
    • According to the socio-economic caste census 2011, 182505 families in rural India engaged in manual scavenging, but the government recognized only 12,742 manual scavengers in 13 states in 2013.
  • Lack of technology- help in the form of equipment for pumping, robots for cleaning sewers, and proper protective gear.
  • The number of deaths related to manual scavenging remains high. As per the house listing and housing census of 2011, there were about 7.94 Lakhs latrines in the country from which night soil and human waste were removed manually.
  • Lack of awareness and low bargaining power - manual scavengers need to be aware of labour rights and have low bargaining power because of being the most vulnerable section of society.
  • The stigma attached to the activity of manual scavenging. This stigma is due to the various social aspect attached to this activity.
  • While manual scavenging is rampant in India, it was grossly underreported. To solve this problem, the definition of manual scavenging was widened by prohibiting the employment of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation act 2013.
  • Many categories of manual scavengers are also missing from the prohibition of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation act, like domestic workers working in residential and commercial areas.
  • Health risks associated with manual scavenging
    • Most deaths related to manual scavenging occur because of asphyxiation due to poisonous gases, particularly carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Human faeces and urine carry a number of pathogens, including hepatitis A, E Coli, Rotavirus, Norovirus, and pinworms.
    • Repeated handling of human excreta without protection leads to respiratory and skin diseases, anaemia, jaundice, trachoma, etc.

Way forward

  • The legislation regarding manual scavenging needs to be adequately implemented, in letter and spirit.
  • Employment of machines for cleaning septic tanks 
  • The government should create dedicated funds under the swachh Bharat Abhiyan for the scientific management of tanks which would avoid the employment of manual scavengers.

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