- The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E) is preparing to conduct a nationwide survey to enumerate all sanitation workers engaged in cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
- This census is part of the National Action Plan for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem (Namaste) scheme and will be conducted in 500 AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) cities
- It will replace the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) introduced in 2007 with its merger.
- Program Monitoring Units (PMUs) will be set up for 500 AMRUT cities under the exercise.
- Once this exercise is completed in 500 cities, it will be expanded across the country to enable them to easily access government benefits such as upskilling and loans and capital subsidies.
- It was launched in July 2022.
- Namaste scheme jointly launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and MoSJ&E, aims to eradicate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices.
- Zero deaths in sewage cleaning in India.
- All cleaning work should be done by skilled workers.
- No sanitation workers came in direct contact with human excreta.
- Safai Karyakartas are mobilized into Self Help Groups (SHGs) and empowered to run sanitation enterprises.
- Strong supervision and monitoring system at National, State and Urban Local Body (ULB) levels to ensure enforcement and monitoring of safe cleaning operations.
- Raising awareness among sanitation service seekers (individuals and institutions) to avail services from registered and skilled sanitation workers.
- A minimum of 351 deaths have occurred in manual scavenging since 2017.
- It aims to streamline the process of rehabilitation of Safai Karamcharis.
- This will make it easier for them to access government benefits such as upskilling and loans and capital subsidies.
- To link the empaneled sanitation workers with the Swachh Udyami Yojana, through which the workers themselves will be the owners of the cleaning machines and the government will ensure that work is available at the municipal level.
- Swachh Udyami Yojana has twin objectives – to provide livelihood to sanitation and sanitation workers and to free manual scavengers to achieve the overall goal of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”.
- Manual Scavenging or manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excreta from public roads and dry latrines, cleaning of septic tanks, drains and sewers”.
- India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
- The Act prohibits any person from manual scavenging, carrying, disposing of or otherwise disposing of human excreta in any manner.
- The Act recognizes manual scavenging as an “inhuman practice”.
Major reasons for manual scavenging currently in use:
- In many independent surveys, the lack of proactiveness on the part of the state governments in curbing this practice is seen and this practice is prevalent only under their supervision.
Issues arising due to outsourcing:
- At times, local bodies delegate sewer cleaning works to private contractors. However, many of those contractors do not provide proper equipment and sanitation resources for the sanitation workers.
- In case of death of workers due to suffocation, these contractors deny any relation with the deceased.
- This practice is inspired by the division of caste, class and income.
- It is linked to the caste system of India where the so called lower castes are expected to do this work.
- In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), however, the stigma and discrimination still associated with it has sustained.
- This makes it difficult for manual scavengers to secure alternative livelihoods.
Enforcement and shortage of unskilled workers:
- The lack of implementation of the Act and exploitation of unskilled laborers is still prevalent in India.
Steps taken to tackle the problem of manual scavenging:
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020:
- It proposes to completely mechanize sewer cleaning, introduce ‘on-site’ protection methods and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
- It will amend the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
- However, it has not yet received the approval of the cabinet.
Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013:
- The 2013 Act, replacing the 1993 Act, outlaws all manual scavenging cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits, in addition to a ban on dry latrines.
Construction and Maintenance of Insanitary Toilets Act 2013:
- It outlaws the construction or maintenance of insanitary latrines, and the hiring of anyone to do manual scavenging, as well as dangerous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
- It also provides a constitutional obligation to provide alternative employment and other assistance to manual scavengers as compensation for historical injustice and humiliation.
Prevention of Atrocities Act
- In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated measure for sanitation workers, as more than 90% of the manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Castes. This has proved to be an important milestone in freeing manual scavengers from specified traditional occupations.
SafaiMitra Safety Challenge:
- It was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in the year 2020 on World Toilet Day (November 19).
- Challenge for all was launched by the government in April 2021 to mechanize sewer-cleaning for all states. Along with this, if a person needs to enter the sewer line in case of unavoidable emergency, he should be provided with proper equipment/material and oxygen cylinder etc.
‘Swachhta Abhiyan App’:
- It has been developed to identify and geotag the data of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers so that insanitary latrines can be replaced with sanitary latrines and rehabilitated to provide dignity of life to all manual scavengers can go.
Supreme Court’s decision:
- A Supreme Court order in 2014 made it mandatory for the government to identify all those who died in sewage works since 1993 and to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to each person’s family.
- Swachh Bharat Mission has been identified as a top priority area by the 15th Finance Commission and the funds available for smart cities and urban development provide a strong opportunity to address 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 continues in the caste system.
- The state and society need to take active interest in this issue and make a proper assessment and look into all possible options to end this practice later.