Despite claims of manual scavenging being a thing of the past — where people were hired to collect ‘night soil’, or human faeces, from cesspools and privies for disposal at night — a survey report suggests the medieval practise is alive and well in the country.
The survey report based on the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 shows that a total of 1,82,505 manual scavengers still exist in rural parts of almost all states and Union territories — Sikkim, Goa, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep being the only exceptions. In fact, a survey conducted by the Dehradun Municipal Corporation (DMC) in 2011 revealed that eight people were working as manual scavengers in the state capital.
The survey also lists 12 states where 12,236 manual scavengers were found in urban centres — with Uttarakhand and Bihar having 137 manual scavengers each active in city and town areas.
Interestingly, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and West Bengal have fewer manual scavengers than Uttarakhand, suggesting that these states have done a better job in eliminating the inhuman practise.
The state governments have now been asked to verify the data so that the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (MS Act) could be more effectively enforced.
“Most of the manual scavengers are based at Haridwar. However, we have received funds from the government of India for their training and rehabilitation, which we would be doing soon,” said Bhupinder Kaur, secretary, social welfare department.
The MS Act prohibits construction of insanitary latrines in addition to engaging of manual scavengers. It also provides for the identification of insanitary latrines and their demolition or conversion on a time-bound basis.
Local civic bodies had been mandated to construct an adequate number of sanitary community latrines within a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation.
However, achieving the targets set under the law is an uphill task for the administration.
According to a DMC survey, there are 2,984 unhygienic toilets in Dehradun alone that still use scavengers to dispose untreated human waste into water bodies or drains through pipes.