The government has developed the NAMASTE scheme—National Action Plan for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem—to clean septic tanks and sewers.
NAMASTE Scheme is a joint venture of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
Significance of the NAMASTE Scheme
- It aspires to achieve results, including achieving zero sanitation-related deaths in India, preventing sanitation workers from coming into direct touch with human waste, and providing alternative employment opportunities for all sewer and septic tank sanitation workers.
- The Ministry has shortlisted types of machinery and core equipment required for maintenance works, and safety gear for Safai Mitras.
- The same is also available on the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) portal for ease of their procurement by States and Urban Local Bodies.
- The Skill Development and training of Safai Mitras are being taken up with the support of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment through the National Safai Karamchari Finance Development Corporation.
- The scheme will be implemented from 2022 to 2026 across 500 cities and townships notified under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) Scheme.
What is Manual Scavenging?
- Manual scavenging is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewers or septic tanks.
- India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
- The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
- In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was also broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks.
- The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”
Why is it still prevalent in India?
- Low awareness: Manual scavenging is mostly done by the marginalized section of society and they are generally not aware of their rights.
- Enforcement issues: The lack of enforcement of the Act and exploitation of unskilled labourers are the reasons why the practice is still prevalent in India.
- High cost of automated: The Mumbai civic body charges anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000 to clean septic tanks.
- Cheaper availability: The unskilled labourers, meanwhile, are much cheaper to hire and contractors illegally employ them at a daily wage of Rs 300-500.
- Caste dynamics: Caste hierarchy still exists and it reinforces the caste’s relation with occupation. Almost all the manual scavengers belong to lower castes.
Various Policy Initiatives
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020: It proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: Superseding the 1993 Act, the 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
- Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan: It started the national wide march “Maila Mukti Yatra” for the total eradication of manual scavenging from 30th November 2012 from Bhopal.
- Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers since a majority of the manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste.
- Compensation: As per the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Safai Karamchari Andolan vs Union of India case, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh is awarded to the victim’s family.
- India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the practice of manual scavenging violates international human rights law, including protections found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
- India is also a party to other international conventions that reinforce obligations to end manual scavenging.
- Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the Right to Life’ and that also with dignity.
- Need to ensure proper implementation of the Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers, and promote Alternative opportunities or Jobs.
- Ensure that rehabilitation entitlements under the 2013 Act—including financial assistance, scholarships, housing, alternative livelihood support, and other important legal and programmatic assistance—are available to manual scavenging communities.