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Govt to launch survey in Jan to identify people still working as manual scavenger

Experts and human rights advocates have said the government data does not reflect the prevalence of the dehumanizing practice that was outlawed in 2013

india Updated: Dec 12, 2017 11:53 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
manual scavenger,manual scavenging,human rights issues
A municipal worker attempts to unblock a sewer overflowing with human excreta in New Delhi in 2009. The practice was banned in 2013. (HT file photo)

The Union government will begin in January an exercise to determine how many people still work as ‘manual scavengers’, a degrading occupation in which mostly men from lower castes remove untreated human excreta from places such as open pits, septic tanks, railway tracks and sewers.

India outlawed manual scavenging in 2013 but the practice is commonplace with no accurate picture of how prevalent it is. Every year, several workers die from noxious gases in places like sewers, which they enter without protective gear.

According to a source in the ministry of social justice and empowerment – the department responsible for rehabilitating the workers, the surveys will be launched in particular districts and will at first cover only limited forms of the occupation. Those who clean night soil — buckets and cesspools in which excreta is collected overnight — and pit latrines will be surveyed in the first phase, and people involved in cleaning septic tanks, sewers, railways tracks and platforms will be counted in the next.

“Both the government and the non-government sector feels that there could be more people involved in manual scavenging. Many states, despite Centre’s reminders, have failed to update lists and maintain that there are no manual scavengers,” said the official.

According to data till December 10, there are 13,411 people who have been identified in the occupation statutory towns across the country.

As many as 13 states, including Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, have not sent reports to the centre on the status of implementing the provisions of the 2013 ban, ministry officials said.

Ending manual scavenging and enforcing the law is also part of the government’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) initiative, which eyes a 2019 target to eradicate open defecation and build toilets across the country.

The social justice ministry’s survey will take in data provided by the ministry of water and sanitation and the NGOs working with manual scavengers.

India’s inability to end manual scavenging, a term used only in the Indian context, drew sharp criticism by a United Nations Special Rapporteur Léo Heller.

He said recently that the government presents a different number for how many are still employed as manual scavengers from advocacy groups and NGOs, a remark that was rebuked by the administration.

To rehabilitate manual scavengers, the government offers a one-time cash payment of Rs 40,000 and loans and skill development training for an alternate profession.

First Published: Dec 12, 2017 11:06 IST