The Bihar government has launched a major drive to abolish the practice of manual scavenging by rehabilitating all those people engaged in the inhuman practice of carrying night soil on their head from dry toilets. The time frame fixed to do away with the practice is December 31, 2009.
The pro-active government initiative, coming rather late in the day, is still a welcome step given that the state still has about 10,641 individuals (official survey in1996) engaged, especially from Dalit sections including the Valmiki community and other sub-castes, in the degrading work. According to surveys, Motihari has 643 manual scavengers
followed by Patna, (603) Siwan ( 577), Saran(509) Munger (430) and Vaishali( 489).
"It's a sad reflection of how successive governments in Bihar have failed to abolish manual scavenging and dry toilets, which encourages weaker sections to take up such undignified profession," said Neel Ratan, a social researcher, adding that the failure of setting up sanitary toilets under the Total sanitation programme in backward states was one of the
root cause for the prevalence of manual scavengers. An action aid survey in 2002, had estimated that there are 30,000 dry toilets in six states including Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Officials, however, claim the number of manual scavengers could have declined drastically in last one decade (since the last survey)."We are identifying each individual engaged in manual scavenging and giving them loans to take up any alternative profession like a grocery shop, tea stall and other small time business. We want to abolish it," said an officer of the SC/ST and backward/EBC welfare department. But the time frame of one and a half month to disburse loans among such high number of applicants, poses a big challenge.
"Many of the identified individuals are not even keen to take loans as they fear getting into the debt trap. Many even refuse to be acknowledged as manual scavengers due to social considerations and deny availing the scheme," said another officer.
At present, 1642 manual scavengers have been rehabilitated while applications of 2393 beneficiaries are being processed. Rest of 6707 applications are under scrutiny, sources said, adding that all block level officers and DMs had been directed to dispose off applications on a priority in coordination with banks.
The drive on war footing is a fall out of the time frame fixed by centre to all such states where manual scavengers still exist especially Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa.
A PIL was filed against abolishment of manual scavengers in 2003 in the Supreme Court by the Safai Karamchari Andolan, a voluntary group. The Apex court had asked all states to eradicate the demeaning profession.