Eradication of Manual Scavenging

The State Government of Karnataka has identified only 726 manual scavengers in the official survey. The patent dishonesty of the process can be discerned from Census of India 2011 pertaining to the state. The data for Karnataka (see Table 1 below) showed that it had 51,449 latrines where either excreta was removed by humans (7,740) or the latrines were open pit (43,709) requiring human intervention. In another 61,802 households, the excreta was being disposed off in open drains again requiring manual cleaning.

All this is despite The Employment of Manual Scavenger and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 which prohibits construction of insanitary latrines and employment of persons as manual scavengers to clean them and the enactment of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act in 2013 which expanded the definition of manual scavenging by expressly prohibiting employment of persons for “manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track”. The 2013 Act directed authorities to demolish insanitary latrines or convert them into sanitary (with flush) latrines, but authorities have not taken any action to implement these directives. Insanitary latrines continue to exist and are being used necessitating the employment of people as Manual Scavengers. Hence,,the root cause of the continuation of manual scavenging as a practice -the persisting utilization of insanitary latrines- has remain unaddressed despite the Act being in force for two decades. The same census report also revealed that in Karnataka state, there were 64,30,515 households without toilets, implying that they were either dependent on public toilets or were defecating in open which may also require manual intervention and thus may also promote manual scavenging. Additionally, there were 17,11,701 households where latrines dispose off excreta into septic tanks. A majority of these are not covered double pit latrines and thus need to be emptied and cleaned by manual scavengers periodically.

Table 1: Use of Manual Intervention in Sanitation System in Karnataka (Census 2011)

S noCategoryRuralUrbanTotal
1Number of households having latrine facility within the premises223453445148626749396
1.1With Flush
1.1.1Piped sewer system16087028337402994610
1.1.2Septic tank8056189060831711701
1.1.3Other system9080364626155429
1.2Pit latrine
1.2.1With slab/ventilated improved pit11272306181801745410
1.2.2Without slab/open pit252451846443709
1.3Night soil disposed into open drain93285247461802
1.4Service Latrine
1.4.1Night soil removed by human205256887740
1.4.2Night soil serviced by animal133881560728995
2Number of households not having latrine facility within the premises56296628008536430515
2.1Public latrine272968231249504217
2.2Open Defecation53566945696045926298
3Total Latrines Requiring Manual Cleaning647190517835628255467

Several of the persons who are casually employed as Manual Scavengers are safaikarmacharis working for City Corporations, City Municipalities, Town Panchayats or Gram Panchayats. In rural Karnataka alone, there are more than 68,000 jhadamalis– gram panchayat level sweepers employed on contract basis- several of them working for more than 30 years now. They are denied documents as proof of being government employees, are not paid minimum wages, deprived of healthcare or social security benefits and thus live under continuous threat of losing employment any time. Though they are appointed as sweepers, they are compelled to clean open drainage and soak pits since rural areas are not covered by underground drainage infrastructure. They are also forced to clean human excreta without water or equipments. Thus, their human rights are violated blatantly with breach of law by government and municipal bodies themselves.

Thus any effort to eradicate Manual Scavenging would also need to tackle the enforced poverty and deprivation of safaikarmacharis who most often also do manual scavenging work. Thus, while working towards eradication of manual scavenging practice through enforcement of prohibitory laws, it is also important to organize safaikarmacharis for better wages, to work towards regularization of employment with attendant benefits and bring about development of youths and children from these families to enable the community to take up alternate occupations.

For eradication of this inhuman practice, Thamate is acting at two levels: preventive and rehabilitative. Firstly, since most of the workers forced to clean excreta in dry latrines or open pits are those employed as safaikarmacharis by various Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Gram Panchayats (GPs), Thamate is actively organizing safaikarmacharis by formation of Community-based Monitoring Groups (CBMG). The objective of formation of these CBMGs is to build capacity among the workers themselves to be able to demand various entitlements related to labour, health, housing drinking water etc. Where Thamate’s approach differs from other such efforts is that instead of organizing workers through supervisors or maestris, Thamate seeks to promote leadership among SK/MS themselves. The CBMGs identify critical work place issues faced by members, address the day-to-day problems of the members by holding meetings with officials of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) independently without need for top-down management and they link up at the district and state level SK/MS organizations to participate in the larger advocacy efforts. Secondly, the phenomenon of deaths of persons in the process of being employed as Manual Scavengers like deaths while entering sewers etc. have been increasing in the last few years. On getting information about these incidents, Thamate personnel conduct fact-finding exercises in collaboration with like-minded human rights and Dalit organizations. Recourse to legal interventions like registering complaints and filing FIRs, demanding the statutory compensation as per the Supreme Court Order (W.P. (CIVIL) NO. 583 OF 2003) etc. is taken to enforce the provisions of the 2013 Act and create deterrence against the practice of Manual Scavenging.

Visit the following posts to know more about interventions for eradication of manual scavenging:-