Question : The practice of manual scavenging, which has been kept in the list of inhuman and undignified works, is still prevalent in India. Explain the reasons behind it and suggest measures for its effective diagnosis.

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Question : The practice of manual scavenging, which has been kept in the list of inhuman and undignified works, is still prevalent in India. Explain the reasons behind it and suggest measures for its effective diagnosis. – 8 April

Answer – 

Despite many important provisions and many initiatives, the practice of manual scavenging continues in India even today.This practice is related to a particular class, whereas Article 46 of the Constitution states that the State will protect the weaker sections of the society, mainly the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, from social injustice, and protect them from being the victim of all forms of exploitation.

Recently, the Central Government has proposed to amend“The prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their rehabilitation act, 2013”.The amendment is considered after looking at a report released by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, according to which, 376 people have died in the country in the last five years due to ‘manual scavenging’, out of which 110 deaths alone in 2019.Under the proposed amendment, a provision has been made to mandate mechanized cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, along with a 24×7 helpline to be set up to file complaints of violations.

Reasons for the practice of “manual scavenging”:

  • Construction of discrepant toilets: In India, there are a large number of such toilets that require removal of feces by hand.Even, the pit of toilets being constructed under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is so small that it will soon be filled with human wastes.In such a situation, discordant and inconsistent construction of toilets is a major reason for the continuation of this practice.
  • Lack of safety equipment:The biggest reason for the increase in cases of death in manual scavenging is that most of the workers, who clean the manhole, do not have sufficiently efficient and protective equipment.People engaged in this work often use only basic and less efficient equipment like bucket, broom, bamboo and basket.
  • Stoic attitude of state governments: Despite all the legal obligations, the state governments do not show any eagerness to rebuild toilets where manual scavenging is required. State governments perform this work only by personnel appointed as “sweepers”. In fact, there is also a lack of clarity about defining manual scavengers.
  • Social Issues: The practice of manual scavenging is associated with the caste system of India, where it is expected to be done by the so-called lower castes. Although manual scavenging as employment is prohibited through laws, the stigma and discrimination associated with it are still prevalent. This social discrimination makes it difficult for workers who have left manual scavenging to obtain new or alternative means of livelihood. As a result, people have to return to manual scavenging once again due to lack of other opportunities for the maintenance of their family.
  • Lack of administrative accountability:If an administration is not able to curb this practice, then there is no punitive legislation for that.

Rules, legislation and major initiatives against manual scavenging:

  • Under the ‘Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, the theme of eradication of malpractices based on untouchability, such as manual scavenging or sweeping, was given prominence.The Kaka Kalelkar Commission in 1956 underlined the need for mechanization of cleaning of the toilets. ​Later, on the basis of Malkani Committee (1957) and Pandya Committee (1968), the service rules of manual scavenging in India were regulated
  • Under the “Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”, manual scavenging has been completely banned. Apart from this, employing or involving people to manually clean drains, sewer tanks, septic tanks without any safety equipment is considered a punishable offense under this Act. In this act, the state governments and municipal bodies have been asked to identify the manual scavengers and manage their rehabilitation along with the family. Besides, arrangements have also been made to provide training, loans and accommodation to manual scavengers. A provision of financial assistance of Rs.10 lakh was made by the Supreme Court in the form of compensation to the families of the victims in each case of death during sewer cleaning.


  • Social awareness: Before effective disposal of the social aspects associated with manual scavenging, it must be acknowledged that even today, this malicious practice is strongly associated with caste and Varna system, as well as understanding the reasons behind it.For the end of this practice, it is necessary to make people aware of the heinous violation of human rights during manual scavenging.
  • Strict legal provisions:Due to earlier efforts to end manual scavenging, its cases have declined, but even then this practice is still prevalent in most parts of the country, in such a situation, there is a need to give priority to further strengthening the laws related to manual scavenging, along with the promotion of technical options to address this malpractices.
  • Rehabilitation and Alternative Employment: Effective solution of this abuse is possible only when proper arrangements for rehabilitation and alternative employment are made for the workers involved in manual scavenging. If the employee leaves this work and is oriented towards some other employment, then he should have enough options available.

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