According to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E), only 508 districts out of the total 766 in the country have declared themselves manual-scavenging free.
The practice of manual scavenging in India
- Meaning: Manual scavenging includes the disposal of human excreta manually from dry latrines, and public streets and the maintenance and sweeping of septic tanks, sewers and gutters.
- Prevalence in India: As many as 58,000 people worked as manual scavengers as of 2018. 941 people have died since 1993 due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
- People from lower castes/Dalits most commonly experience the practice, which is considered the worst remaining evidence of untouchability.
Attempts to abolish manual scavenging
Salient features of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013:
- It bans manual scavenging.
- It widened the definition of manual scavengers by including it in all forms of manual removal of human excreta.
- It lays a key focus on rehabilitating the manual scavengers by organising training programs (at a stipend of Rs. 3000) and offering scholarships to their children.
- It makes the offence of manual scavenging cognizable and non-bailable.
- It makes it obligatory for employers to provide protective tools to the workers.
- Under this scheme, the government has provided a one-time cash payout of ₹40,000 each to approximately 58,000 identified sewer workers.
- In addition, ~22,000 of them have been connected to skills training programmes.
- NAMASTE scheme: For 100% mechanisation of sewer work. The government has now merged the scheme for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers with the NAMASTE scheme.
- Lack of funding: The Union Budget 2023-24 showed no allocation for the rehabilitation scheme and ₹100 crore allocation for the NAMASTE scheme.
- Skills training programs have connected less than half of the identified sewer workers.
- Manual scavenging is still practiced in India despite all efforts.
- All local bodies must identify and profile all septic tank/sewer workers in their respective areas.
- Provide them with occupational training and safety equipment.
- Sign them up for health insurance under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
- The Bandicoot Robot is the world’s first robotic scavenger, developed as a Make in India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative by the startup Genrobotics.
- Kerala became the first state in the country to use robotic technology (Bandicoot) to clean all its commissioned manholes.
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