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Manual Scavenging: An Act to Empower Manual Scavengers

India has a history of a caste system practised since pre-independence. However, with time, caste-based inequality has decreased with the enforcement of the Constitution of India and several laws.

The caste system divided Hindus into four castes Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas & Shudras. Brahmins were the highest caste, and Shudras were the lowest ones. Shudras, also called untouchables or Dalits, usually did all the cleaning and sanitary work.

Manual Scavenging, as the name suggests, is the Act of manually cleaning human excreta or carrying and disposing of human excreta in an insanitary latrine, an open drain, sewer or a septic tank. Manual scavengers who clean the excreta do the work manually using tools such as buckets, brooms and shovels. The workers carry the excreta from the pickup location to the disposal location several kilometres away.

Background of manual scavenging

The practice of human or manual scavenging is quite prevalent in India, Bangladesh & Pakistan. The manual scavengers rarely have any protective equipment; thus, this work is treated as a dehumanising practice.

Freedom fighter G.S. Lakshman Iyer took the first step toward manual Scavenging in the late 1950s after becoming Chairman of Gobichettipalayam municipality and banning manual scavenging. Delhi was the first state ( Union Territory) to ban manual Scavenging in 2013. District Magistrates had to ensure that no manual scavengers were employed and instructed to construct sufficient sanitary toilets to dispose of waste properly.

Various international rules & regulations have been passed to ban the practice of manual Scavenging in India. The International Labour Organization’s Convention (Discrimination in Employment & Occupation) prohibits the exercise of manual Scavenging. In 2013, the Chief of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) welcomed a movement to wipe out manual Scavenging in India.

Manual scavenging violating human rights

Manual Scavenging is the worst form of violation of Human Rights. It also violates the dignity of human beings as it is the lowest grade of work. It exploits the weaker sections of society, is also hazardous to their life, and is a death threat. The decaying waste releases innumerable toxic and poisonous gases, which can cause various diseases such as skin diseases, respiratory problems, long term illnesses, and can also be fatal.

Manual Scavenging is a violation of the right to life & liberty, right to health & freedom to dignity. Further, it violates the right to equality, as it treats untouchables as undignified. In official data released by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, 1013 people have lost their lives in utility holes & sewers until 2020.

Laws preventing manual scavenging

  • Employment of Manual Scavengers & Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993: In 1993, six states passed a resolution requesting the Central Government to pass a resolution prohibiting manual Scavenging. This Act was drafted and given by the Ministry of Urban Development under the governance of Narasimha Rao.

    The Act prohibits the employment of people as manual scavengers and regulates the construction of dry (unsanitary) toilets. The penalty imposed under this Act is up to one year of imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 2000 or both. However, no conviction occurred during the 20 years when the Act was in force.

  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: The act was passed in September 2013.

    The main objectives of this Act were to eliminate unsanitary toilets and prohibition on employment of manual scavengers. They prohibit manual cleaning of open pits and sewers and maintain a survey of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation.

    The Bill got amended in 2020, and the amendment led to the mechanisation of cleaning sewers and pits.

  • The Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers got passed in 2007 to help the people employed in manual Scavenging transfer to other occupations.
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020: This Bill amended the previously passed Act and completely mechanised the cleaning of sewers & septic tanks without the involvement of Manual labour. This Bill was a consequence of protests carried out by several activists such as:
    • During the 1970s, Bindeshwar Pathak first introduced the concept of “Sulabh”, eradicating the practice of manual Scavenging and introducing well-maintained & hygienic toilets.
    • Activist Bezwada Wilson formed a group called Safai Karmachari Andolan and began to campaign for the demolition of dry latrines in the year 1994. However, their efforts were unsuccessful, as the practice was still prevalent after two decades of protests.
    • The United Nations organised a fashion show in July 2008 as part of its International Year of Sanitation. The fashion show included 36 scavengers and models to raise concerns over manual Scavenging.
    • An NGO named Movement for Scavenger Community was founded in 2009 by an activist named Vimal Kumar. The NGO worked towards the social and economic empowerment of the scavenger community and provided them with education.
    • The Garima Abhiyan was started in Madhya Pradesh and provided assistance and support to over 20000 women from the scavenger community.
    • Pragya Akhilesh, also known as Toilet Woman of Delhi, played an active role in reminding the Government about their failure to eradicate manual scavenging and rehabilitating the people employed as manual scavengers.

Manual Scavenging Act

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides the provision to prohibit employment of manual scavengers and promotes rehabilitation of manual scavengers along with their families.

The Act further promotes among the citizens the right to live with dignity as provided by the Constitution of India.

The Act came into force in December 2013 and provided a step by guide to preventing manual Scavenging. The guide included the following steps:

  1. The first step was identifying unsanitary toilets by local authorities and demolishing them.
  2. After identification, the local authorities convert insanitary toilets to sanitary ones or demolish them within the next six months.
  3. The next step is to develop more sanitary toilets by the local bodies in areas where unsanitary toilets were found within the next nine months.
  4. The last and final step is to build adequate sanitary toilets in the community.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, is divided into eight chapters and thirty-nine sections.

Terms defined under the Act

  • Hazardous Cleaning: Section 2(1)(d) defines Hazardous Cleaning. This provision only includes the incidents of dangerous cleaning drainage/utility holes, which consequently lead to the death of workers.

    The Act allows workers to enter such places using proper protective gear. Protective gear includes a torch, oxygen and computer-based navigation of the workers. Also, only properly trained workers should be allowed to enter utility holes.

  • Insanity Latrine: Section 2(1)(e) Act defines Insanity Latrine as a latrine that requires human excreta to be cleaned or handled manually where excreta is discharged or flushed out before decomposing.
  • Manual Scavenger: Section 2(1)(g)defines a Manual Scavenger as a person employed to manually clean, carry and dispose of untreated human waste from unsanitary toilets and open pits.

    However, using protective gear, a person engaged in scavenging work cannot be considered a manual scavenger. Sweepers and cleaners also do not fall under manual scavengers.

  • Occupier: Section 2(1)(j) defines Occupier concerning the premises where unsanitary toilets exist, or someone is employed as a manual scavenger on such premises.
  • Owner: Section 2(1)(k) defines the owner as the owner of the premises where the insanity toilets exist, or a person is employed as a manual scavenger.
  • Septic Tank: Section 2(1)(p) Act defines Septic Tank as a water-tight settling or underground chamber used to receive and hold human excreta that allows it to decompose through bacterial activity.
  • Sewer: Section 2(1)(q) Act is an underground conduit or pipe used to carry human excreta besides other waste matter and drainage waste.

Identification of sanitary latrines

Section 4 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides that the local authority are responsible for surveying insanitary latrines and sanitary community latrines.

As per this section, the local authority is duty bound to carry out a survey within their jurisdiction and publish the list of insanitary latrines within two months from the commencement of this act.

Further, the local authority shall notify the occupier within fifteen days after publishing the list. The notice is sent to demolish the insanitary latrine and convert it into a sanitary latrine within six months.

Prohibition of insanitary latrines and employment and engagement of the manual scavenger

Section 5 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides that no person other than the local authority or any other agency should construct an insanitary latrine or engage or employ either directly or indirectly a manual scavenger. Further, any person employed as a manual scavenger should get discharged immediately.

Section 6 of the Act provides that any contract or agreement signed to engage an employee as a manual scavenger shall be terminated on the commencement of this Act.

Section 7 of the Act prohibits any person from engaging in the employment for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.

Identification of the manual scavengers in urban and rural areas

Section 11 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides that every municipality with the reason to believe that any person employed in manual scavenging is in the jurisdiction of the Chief Executive Officer of the Municipality. The Chief Executive Officer should survey to identify the persons employed as manual scavengers.

Section 12 provides the Application for the identification of the urban manual scavenger. Any person working as a manual scavenger can, at the time of the survey or thereafter, make an application to identify himself as a manual scavenger.

Survey of manual scavengers in rural areas by the panchayat

Section 14 provides that the panchayat has the reason to believe that any person in their area is working as a manual scavenger; the panchayat should conduct a survey to find manual scavengers in their area.

Application by rural manual scavenger

Section 15 provides that the person working as a manual scavenger should, during the survey being conducted or anytime after that can, apply to be declared a manual scavenger.

Rehabilitation of person identified as Manual Scavenger by municipality and panchayat

Section 13 and Section 16 provides that any person included in the final list of manual scavenger shall get rehabilitated in the following manner:

  • He shall be given a photo identity card within one month.
  • One-time cash assistance within one month
  • The manual scavenger children receive a scholarship amount per relevant government scheme.
  • The person shall be allowed a resident plot and financial assistance for house construction.
  • The adult member of the family should be given an opportunity for training, subject to the person’s eligibility and willingness, a monthly stipend of not less than three thousand rupees during the training period.
  • The person to be provided with legal and programmatic assistance

Offence and penalty

The Act punishes the following offences:

  • Employing people as manual scavengers
  • Employing people to clean septic tanks and open sewers without proper protective gear
  • Construction of insanitary toilets
  • Not demolishing or converting unsanitary bathrooms into sanitary ones after the passing of the Act.

Penalty for the violation under the Act

Penalty for the violation of sections 5 and 6 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provided under Section 8:

  • First-time offenders get punished with one year of imprisonment, a fine of fifty thousand rupees, or both.
  • Repetitive offenders get penalised for up to 2 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to five lakh rupees or both.

Penalty for the violation of section 7 of the Act, provided under Section 9:

  • First-time offenders under this section shall be punishable with imprisonment of two years or a fine extending to two lakh rupees or both.
  • The repetitive offender or subsequent conviction shall be entitled to imprisonment that may extend to five years, with a fine extending to five lakh rupees, or with both.

Section 22 of the Act, provides that the offences under the Act are non-bailable, cognisable offences.

Committees under the Act

Section 24 and 26 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, has formed three committees under the act. The two committees are:

  • Vigilance Committees (Section 24)
  • State Monitoring Committee (Section 26)
  • Central Monitoring Committee (Section 29)

Vigilance Committee

Section 24 of the Act provides provision for the creation of the vigilance committee. The State Government forms the vigilance committee for each district and sub-division.

The Vigilance Committee shall constitute of:

  • The District Magistrate
  • The member of the state legislature that belong to the schedule caste
  • The district superintendent of police
  • The chief executive officer
  • One representative from the railway authority
  • Four social workers
  • One person from a financial or credit society
  • District level in charge of schedule caste welfare

Functions of the vigilance committee

Section 25 provides the functions of the vigilance committee.

  • To advise District Magistrate.
  • To overseas the economic and social rehabilitation of manual scavengers
  • To coordinate the operations of the concerned agencies
  • To monitor the registration of offences and their investigation and prosecution

State Monitoring Committee

Section 26 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides that the state government should constitute a state monitoring committee.

The State Monitoring Committee shall constitute the following member:

  • The Chief Minister of the state to get nominated as chairperson
  • The minister in charge of the scheduled caste
  • Chairperson of the State Commission for Safai Karamchari
  • Representatives of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes,
  • Two members of the State Legislature (belonging to the Scheduled Castes),
  • The Director-General of Police
  • Secretaries to the State Government
  • Chief Executive Officer of at least one Municipal Corporation, Panchayat
Functions of the State Monitoring Committee

Section 27 provides the functions of the State Monitoring Committee:

  • To monitor and advise the State Government and Local Authority on the practical function of the committee
  • To coordinate with the parts of the concerned agency
  • To look into the matters related to the implementation of the provision of the Act

Central Monitoring Committee

Section 29 provides the provision for the constitution of the Central Monitoring Committee. ‘

The Central Monitoring Committee shall consist of the following members:

  • The Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment
  • Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes
  • Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
  • Chairperson of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis
  • Member of the Planning Commission that deals with the development of the Scheduled Castes
  • Three elected members of Parliament belonging to Scheduled Castes
  • Secretaries of various Ministries
  • Chairman of Railway Board
  • Director-General of Defence
  • Six representatives of the State Governments and One representative from Union territory
  • Six social workers belonging to an organisation working for the prohibition of manual scavenging

Functions of Central Monitoring Committee

Section 30 provides functions to be performed by the Central Monitoring Committee.

  • To monitor and advise the Central Government and State Government for effective implementation of the provision of the Act.
  • To coordinate the functions of all the concerned agencies.
  • To look into the matter related to the implementation of the Act.

Conclusion

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, prohibits manual scavenging. This Act aims at protecting manual scavengers and giving them the benefits of living life freely and with dignity. The Act further provides the provision that protects the rights of the manual scavenger. The Act has made the rules to protect the rights of manual scavengers both in rural and urban areas. Further, it has the provision that binds the local authority to take steps for the protection of the rights of the manual scavengers.

FAQs

Who is a manual scavenger?

A manual scavenger is a person employed to clean & handle untreated human waste from unsanitary toilets and open pits.

Which committees are set up by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, for the prohibition of Manual Scavengers?

Following committees are set up under the Act:

  • Vigilance Committee
  • State Monitoring Committee
  • Central Monitoring Committee

What are the functions of the National Commission for Safai Karamchari?

The National Commission performs the following functions for Safai Karamchari:

  • Monitors the implementation of the provision of the Act
  • Enquires the complaint regarding the contravention of the provisions
  • To advise the Central and State Governments.
  • To make suo-moto cognisance of the matter related to non-implementation.

What is the main objective of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013?

The main objectives of this Act are to identify manual scavengers through surveys and to provide for their rehabilitation.

About Author

Anshita Surana, born in the year 1999 in Guwahati, Assam and brought up in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan, where I completed my elementary and secondary education from the CBSE board.

Currently, Pursuing B.B.A.LL.B(H) from K. R. Mangalam University, Gurugram.

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