No manual scavengers in country anymore, Govt tells Parliament
There are no more manual scavengers in the country, the Centre told Parliament in writing on Tuesday, citing reports sent by various state governments.
It also added, while answering a question by Communist Party of India lawmaker S Venkatesan, that voluntary organisations have claimed that the banned practice continues but they have been unable to substantiate those claims.
Just last week, Union social justice minister Virendra Kumar told the Rajya Sabha that 58,098 manual scavengers were identified across the country in two separate surveys in 2013 and 2018.
On Tuesday, minister of state for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale reiterated that point and claimed that no deaths were reported due to manual scavenging in the last five years. He, however, said that “309 deaths have been reported during the last five years of people who undertook hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks”.
The government has differentiated between deaths due to manual scavenging and those that have occurred while cleaning sewers. Experts have maintained cleaning sewers and septic tanks is a mere extension of the now-banned practice of manual scavenging or the cleaning of human excreta by hand.
Bezwada Wilson, the founder of Safai Karmachari Andolan, which works for sanitation workers, said the government’s denial about manual scavengers is not a new thing.
“...but openly denying it in Parliament is a new pattern. As a government, they should have the courage to come up and accept that manual scavengers exist here. There is no concern about the community,” Wilson said.
The government has said all identified manual scavengers have been provided one-time cash assistance of ₹40,000 as part of a scheme to rehabilitate them.
Manual scavengers and their dependents are provided with a stipend of ₹3,000 during skill training and concessional loan and capital subsidy up to ₹5 lakh for self-employment projects costing up to ₹15 lakh.
According to government data, 14,692 manual scavengers were given assistance in 2020-21 as compared to 13,246 in 2019-20.
The data also showed that 6,204 manual scavengers were given skill development training in 2020-21.