Manual Scavengers Act

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

“On one hand we’re sending Satellites to Mars but then many are still losing their lives while going down in manholes to clean.”

Manual scavengers Act also known as The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act is an act passed by the Central government in 2013. The act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers and the manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks without protective equipment. It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.

Manual scavengers are the people who manually clean excreta of human beings, manholes, septic tanks. These people are mostly Dalits and the most common Dalit caste performing sanitation is VALMIKI (BALMIKI). Construction of dry toilets and employment of manual scavengers was prohibited in 1993 still practice of manual scavenging was reported in many states.

Article 21 right to life is a fundamental right for every individual in India and employing people for such menial work infringes their rights. In the opinion of agencies, there is a huge fall in the number of manual scavengers from 2008 (770,340) to 2018 (42303) but this data can’t be relied upon, because this drastic reduction is on paper not in reality.

Measures government need to take for the ACT:

  • Launch Awareness program in districts for MS Act 2013.

  • Penalize the implementation bodies responsible for the mismanagement.

  • Use technology (machines) to prevent Manual scavenging.

  • Training of local bodies about the safety procedures/equipment.

  • Compensation to the family of the deceased and assure alternative employment to them.

  • Maintain survey of manual scavengers through proper channel.

The benefits and entitlements provided under the act:

  • Compensation of Rs. 10lac to the family of the deceased.

  • Provide safety gears and other precautions to workers employed.

  • No insanitary latrines will be constructed, maintained, or used, if found strict actions will be taken against the occupier.

  • 2 years of imprisonment and fine to the offenders.

Recently, Allahabad High court asked State governments to respond to the implementation of the Manual scavengers Act in a state after few law students filed a PIL before CJ Govind Mathur. Hearing a case filed by Safai karamchari Andolan Madras high court asked the state government to book municipal commissioners for culpable homicide in cases of deaths of manual scavengers in the future. Karnataka high court terms manual scavenging as ‘most inhuman’ practice and asked state governments to follow directions for the implementation of manual scavenging and rehabilitation act 2013.

Even after 8 years of this act still, there are more than 15 lacs manual scavengers in the country, of whom more than 50% are women according to data from the Rehabilitation Research Initiative.

We need to question the government that how it is going to eradicate manual scavenging if they do not have an understanding of the problems of caste and discrimination? How did it respond to the deaths of workers in manholes after enforcement of the act?




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