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The term Scavenging refers to searching or collecting discarded waste. These discarded waste is collected manually with hands, legs etc. Manual scavenging refers to practice of searching, carrying or disposing the human excreta in any manner by the person manually. It is generally collected through the body parts in buckets, mugs etc. It is a practice which is being followed in India from a long time back. The person who is engaged to do all these things is called scavenger.This is an inhuman practice where an individual has to clean the human excreta from the toilets of the society through their hands which means that there is physical contact of waste with the body of person.If a person cleans the toilet by using protecting gears will not fall under the classification of the manual scavenging.
It is the violation of human rights, international conventions, Indian legislations and judicial decisions. Article 21mentions the right to life with human dignity. Dignity is not mere a term but refer to condition more than a mere animal existence as per the interpretation made by the decisions of Supreme Court. The cleaning of insanitary toilets manually by the humans cannot be term as a ‘life’ with the dignity. These “scavengers” cleans excreta with bare hands cannot fall under definition of “dignity”.They are exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections that affect their skin, eyes, and limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
INDIAN SOCIETY AND PREVALENCE OF PRACTICE
Manual scavenging is usually seen and considered as a caste based occupation in India. It is being ubiquitous in Indian society from a long period of time. These people were usually termed as “untouchables”.
The practice is being prevalent in various parts of the world but specially in India only a particular fragment of society use to clean or engage in this type of activity.
The international labour organisation in his report identified three type of manual scavenging done in India mainly:
Removal of excreta from insanitary latrines
Removal of excreta from septic tanks.
Removal from public streets, gutters and sewerages.
According to Census 2011 figures released by Government, only 46.9 per cent of India’s households have a toilet facility and the rest 49.8 per cent go for defecation in the open places. There are 7, 94,390 dry latrines exist in the whole country in which around 73% are in rural areas and remaining 27% in urban areas. In urban areas, People are cleaning human excreta by entering into manhole and sewage lines. Thus,a large number of human force is working in these inhumane working conditions.
It is estimated that 1.3 million women who are affianced in manual scavenging are making their living through this practice. They earn as 1 rupees for the work done. They do not get any other work and do it without assent as they are treated as untouchable in the society are forced to do the same work.
To deal with the situation of manual scavenging the government of India has passed a number of legislation. These legislations prohibit manual scavenging and making it mandatory the use of protective gear while doing of scavenging. The first act was passed by government in year 1993 and then in 2013 by some modifications.
Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993
After the 43 years of independence, the government of India passed act which prohibit the manual scavenging. It punishes the employer with the one-year imprisonment and fine of Rs. 2000.
The prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
As, the previous passed act was unprogressively to prohibit the use of manual scavenging in India. The government passed under act with harsh punishment which extend two-year imprisonment and fine of Rs. 50000 to the employer of the scavengers.
Different committee were formed to regulate the scavenging and find out the prevalence of manual scavenging in India. Like Barve Committee (1949), Kaka Kalekar Commission (1953), Central Harijan Welfare Board (1956), Malkani Committee (1957), Committee on Customary Right(1965), Pandya Committee(1968-69), National Commission for Safai Karamcharis(Section 2, (h) of 2013 Act).
After 63 years, Delhi became the first state in India to put an embargo on the practice of manual scavenging.Then,Kerala government decided to ban manual scavenging completely in state in 2018 with the use of robotic machine to do the work of scavenging.
The Supreme Court in the latest judgment of 2014 after the enactment of 2013 legislation mention that
“If the practice of manual scavenging is to be culminated along with the protection of the future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to include:
Sewer deaths— Entering sewer lines without safety gear should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For the death caused, the compensation should be awarded of minimum Rs 10 lakhs to the family of the deceased.
Persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law.
Provide support for dignified livelihood to safai karamchari women in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.”
In the Delhi High Court case (National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers v.government of Delhi (2007)), the court was informed that in over a month, 10 persons have died in around four incidents in while they were cleaning sewers lines in the national capital without having any protective instruments or safety measures with them.
The Supreme Court and High Court at many instances focused on the issue of manual scavenging as violation of human right and fundamental right mention under Article 21 of Indian constitution. They have also directly the respective authorities, not to employ any person as manual scavengers.
After various actions taken by both the judiciary and administration, nothing much has been improved. Today also a lot of people are still working as a manual scavenger.
While addressing the upper house of the parliament of India, the minister pointed out that out of the 323 deaths reported across the country since 1993, 144 were from the state of Tamil Nadu. While 59 sanitation workers died in Karnataka, 52 lost their lives while working in sewers and septic tanks in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Nine deaths were recorded in a period of 100 days in 2017.
The state of Tamil Nadu has reported with the highest number of cases of unnatural death of manual scavengers, with over estimated 140 cases reported in the State during the said period, while 59 cases have been reported from Karnataka and 52 from Uttar Pradesh. Around, 12 people died in the capital as per the reported death in the city of Delhi in 2017.
PROBLEM BEEN FACED WHILE ELIMINATION
A lot of problem is faced for the complete elimination of manual scavenging in country. Like:
Most of the manual scavengers are illiterate and have no knowledge about doing any other work.
There is a mental perception which is prevailing among these people which bind them to that work only.
The scavengers themselves don’t want to change as many are old people which think that they are able to start any other work at this stage.
There is no easy facility of loan for the rehabilitation of workers.
As India is the home of large number of employers, to keep body with the soul they have to do this thing.
After years of freedom from British’s, are we really free. But if we see the case of manual scavengers and ask rather our constitution is really in force. Are we enforcing the fundamental right mention in constitution?
The government should increase the budget allocation for the rehabilitating of manual scavengers. As per the 2013-2014 budget Rs 557 Cr. were allocated for their rehabilitation. As this budget came down as petty as Rs.5 Cr. in allocation of 2017 budget. When we notice that every day one scavenger is dying as on average basis, the blame transfers to the people who are living nearby. So, the government should replace the machine with these scavengers. Moreover, the places where the machines cannot be replaced, the use of protective devices should be made compulsory. The practice can be stopped only by the common afford of all the people together.
Section 2 explanation (b), The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
 Article 21, Constitution of India, 1950.
Zonal Meeting of International Labor organization on Promotion of Equality at Work in India (manual scavenging part only), http://www.ilo.org/newdelhi/whatwedo/eventsandmeetings/WCMS_159674/lang–en/index.htm.
 Cleaning Human Waste “Manual Scavenging,” Caste, and Discrimination in India, https://www.hrw.org.
Manual Scavenging, international Dalit solidarity network, http://idsn.org/key-issues/manual-scavenging.
Section 9, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
SafaiKaramchariAndolan v. Union of India, (2014) 11 SCC 224.
Minister, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, 04.08.2015.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pratik Madrecha is a Fourth year student at National Law University, Jodhpur.
In content picture credits: Newsd