Manual scavenging and reasons for its prevalence in India

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Manual scavenging and reasons for its prevalence in India

  • Three labourers allegedly hired for manual scavenging died after inhaling toxic fumes in a septic tank
  • Even though manual scavenging is banned in India, the practice is still prevalent in many parts of the country.

Manual Scavenging

  • It is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewers or septic tanks.
  • India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
  • The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
  • In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was also broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks.
  • The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanising practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”

Reasons for its prevalence in India

  • Lack of enforcement of the Act
  • Exploitation of unskilled labourers
  • Costly mechanised services to clean septic tanks
  • Cheap unskilled labourers do it at marginal cost

Compensation in case of Death

  • As per the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Safai Karamchari Andolan v/s Union of India case, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each is awarded to the family of victims

Way Forward

  • Identification: States must precisely count the employees involved in the cleanup of toxic sludge.
  • To eliminate the social stigma associated with manual scavenging, it is necessary to first identify and then comprehend how and why manual scavenging remains ingrained in the caste system.
  • The Need for a Strict Law: If a law establishes a formal responsibility on the part of state entities to provide sanitary services, the rights of these workers will no longer be in jeopardy.