Status of Rehabilitation of Identified Manual Scavengers in Karnataka (2019)

Manual Scavenging is the practice of handling undecomposed human waste (urine and excreta) which involves human contact with it. As the nature of sanitation system has changed over years, the nature of the practice of manual scavenging has undergone change as well. Earlier, manual scavenging meant carrying of night soil in baskets but as flush toilets were introduced, the need arose for cleaning drains and pits/chambers into which these toilets discharge the waste. As sewer lines and underground drainage system (UGD) came into existence, workers were employed to clear blockages by getting down into manholes. Most recently, because of concern for lakes in Bengaluru, Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs) have been made mandatory for large apartment complexes. When these STPs malfunction, workers are hired to manually clean and repair the STPs. In Karnataka, as in the rest of the country, all the old and newer forms of manual scavenging co-exist today. One aspect of the practice of manual scavenging that has remain unchanged is its caste-based nature. Across India, those who are engaged in this work belong to specific castes. In Karnataka, most of the persons engaged in this practice belong to Madiga community.

After the complete failure of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 to make a dent in the practice of manual scavenging, the Parliament of India passed in 2013, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act . The preamble of the Act acknowledges the existing reality

“AND WHEREAS the dehumanising practice of manual scavenging, arising from the continuing existence of insanitary latrines and a highly iniquitous caste system, still persists in various parts of the country, and the existing laws have not proved adequate in eliminating the twin evils of insanitary latrines and manual scavenging;

AND WHEREAS it is necessary to correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered
by the manual scavengers, and to rehabilitate them to a life of dignity.”

Thus apart from preventing and prohibiting the employment of persons as manual scavengers, identifying those who had been doing this work and rehabilitating them ‘to a life of dignity’ was the central aim of the new legislation. Dignity, which anywhere else one would be guaranteed just by the fact of being human, had to be first conferred in India by its Constitution. And in the case of manual scavengers, it would seem that even that wasn’t enough since in 2013, 63 years after the Constitution came into being, the Parliament had to enact a second legislation to fulfill the promise of dignity to those working as manual scavengers. How successfully has the government implemented the rehabilitative aspects of this Act in Karnataka?

Rehabilitation of Identified Manual Scavengers

Sec 11 and 12 of the 2013 Act places the responsibility of identification of persons working as manual scavengers on the local bodies in urban and rural areas respectively, under the overall direction of the Deputy Commissioner (District Collector). As part of the Supreme Court case Safai Karmachari Andolan & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors. (WRIT PETITION (Civil) NO. 583 OF 2003), most of the local bodies had submitted affidavits stating that there were no workers employed as manual scavengers in their jurisdiction. The patent falsehood of this assertion was revealed by the Census 2011 figures which showed that Karnataka has close to one lakh insanitary latrines. So if there were no manual scavengers, who were cleaning them? Subsequently, Socio-Economic Caste Census showed that in rural Karnataka alone, there were more than 15,000 manual scavengers. In face of these facts, Karnataka government conducted surveys in urban areas in 2013 and in rural areas in 2016. Through these surveys, 302 persons were identified as manual scavengers in urban areas and 474 persons in rural areas. The fact that this was a gross underestimation was apparent to everyone including the administration but it continued with the fiction that 774 manual scavengers were cleaning 1 lakh insanitary latrines. A survey conducted in 2018 by National Safaikarmachari Finance and Development Corporation in 6 districts of Karnataka has identified another 1744 persons as manual scavengers. All these identified persons and their families are required to be rehabilitated in accordance with Sec 13 of the 2013 Act, which provides for:-

  1. One-time cash assistance with in a month of identification;
  2. Educational Scholarship to children;
  3. Residential plot and financial assistance for house construction;
  4. Training in livelihood skill to the worker or any one adult family member along with stipend of Rs 3000/- per month during the period of training;
  5. Subsidy and Concessional Loan to the worker or any one adult family member to take up alternative occupation.

Part (1), (3) and (4) of these rehabilitative measures as prescribed by the Act, have been operationalized through the Self-Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) as revised on 02.12.2013 in view of the PEMSR Act coming into force on 06.12.2013. Part (2) of the rehabilitation measures has been operationalized through Pre-Matric Scholarship for Children of Those Engaged in Occupations Involving Cleaning and Prone to Health Hazards. Part (3) of the rehabilitation package hasn’t been operationalized through any specific scheme but as part of Central Housing schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and State Housing Schemes like Devaraj Urs Housing Scheme or Dr. Ambedkar Housing Scheme, families of workers identified as manual scavengers can be given priority.

Status of the Rehabilitation Process in Karnataka

Since the process of rehabilitation of those identified as part of the survey conducted by National Safaikarmachari Finance and Development Corporation in 2018 is yet to begin, we provide the status of the rehabilitation process for the 302 persons identified in 2013 in urban Karnataka and 474 identified in 2016 in rural areas of Karnataka only . Lets begin with provisioning of the housing first. In Karnataka, none of the local bodies have taken steps towards providing housing to the families of those identified as manual scavengers. The same situation prevails when it comes to provisioning of educational scholarships to children of those identified as manual scavengers. Data obtained through RTI from NSKFDC show that the Scheme for Pre-Matric Scholarship for Children of Those Engaged in Occupations Involving Cleaning and Prone to Health Hazards has not been operationalized in Karnataka as yet. The status of the other three components of the rehabilitation process comprising the SRMS scheme is shown in Table 1 below. Of the identified 776 persons, details of only 732 persons has been provided to NSKFDC for provision of One-time Cash Assistance (OTCA), Skill training and Self-Employment Capital Subsidy Loans. Even after 2-5 years of identification, 73 out of these 712 eligible persons have not been provided OTCA i.e. 12% of the total number of identified persons are yet to begin the process of rehabilitation. The progress in terms of provision of skills development training and capital subsidy loans is even more deplorable as shown in Table 1: only 159 identified persons (21.8%) have been provided skill development training, all of them from urban areas. None of the identified persons in rural areas have been provided skill-development training. Similarly, only 190 persons (64%) have been provided capital subsidy loans, the average value of the loans being Rs. 78,000. Effectively, the rehabilitation process in rural areas has not taken off at all beyond the provision of OTCA.

AreasNo. of Manual Scavengers whose details UploadedNot to be provided One-Time Case Assistance (OTCA) as per norm of one MS per familyProvided OTCA
(No. of MS)
No. of Beneficiaries Completed Skill Development TrainingSelf Employment: Capital Subsidy Released (No. of Beneficiaries)Self Employment: Amount of Capital Subsidy released
(Rs. Lakhs)
Urban297NA254 (86.9%)159 (53.5%)190 (63.9%)NA
Rural435NA385 (91.6%)0 (0.00%)0 (0.00%)NA
Total73220639 (88.8%)159 (21.8%)190 (26.0%)148.63

Beyond the numbers, the litmus test for an effective rehabilitation is if it has been able to facilitate a sustainable transition towards alternative income-generating occupation away from manual scavenging work. This is reflected in the design of the SRMS scheme. The purpose behind providing one-time-cash-assistance is to make up for the disruption in income from discontinuance of the manual scavenging work. The implementing authority is then required to quickly ascertain from the family of the identified person their choice of alternative occupation, nature of skill development training required and the capital subsidy loan needed. While the identified person or any other adult family member undergoes training a stipend of Rs 3000 per month should be provided and the capital subsidy loan should be arranged to enable the family to transition into the new livelihood. During and after this period also, if any programmatic assistance is required, the same should be provided to the family.

In not a single instance of rehabilitation examined by us, has this ideal process been followed. The implementation of the SRMS scheme in the state has been marred by large instances of incomplete/stalled rehabilitation process and the delays between each successive steps. As a result, there is a wide variance in the observed outcomes: while a large percentage of those having received OTCA still continue to make a living from manual scavenging, there are instances of people having used just the OTCA money to buy livestock, or having invested the money in street vending etc. Several of the families who have received the capital subsidy loans complain that while they had proposed projects requiring 1 to 4 lakhs for buying for example sewing machine, or setting-up a computer center or buying a taxi or an auto, officials only sanctioned loans of 20-30k for street vending. The Dr. B R Ambedkar Development Corporation was the State Nodal/Channelizing Agency (SNA/SCA) for SRMS till Jan 2018 after which the newly created Safaikarmachari Development Corporation was appointed as the SNA/SCA. The process of rehabilitation which was progressing in fits and starts under Dr. B R Ambedkar Development Corporation has now completely stalled under Safaikarmachari Development Corporation even as the funds allocated for the rehabilitation of identified workers sits in bank accounts. What is apparent is the apathy and criminal negligence of officials at all levels: local body CEOs and EOs; District Social Welfare Department Officials; Officials of Safaikarmachari Development Corporation, the state nodal agency for SRMS implementation; and the Social Welfare Department Secretariat officials. Meanwhile, for Govindappa and Oblappa whose stories are narrated below, death came before rehabilitation did.

Case Studies: Death Before Rehabilitation

1. Late Govindappa (56 years), Laxmisagara Village, Beglihosahalli GP, Kolar Taluka, Kolar District, Caste: Bhovi (SC)

Govindappa was 56 years old when he breathed his last on 20th Dec 2018. He died of kidney failure caused by prolonged and persistently high blood sugar levels. The doctors at a private hospital in Kolar town had asked for 6 Lakhs for kidney replacement operation, money which they didn’t have, says his wife Narayanamma (in picture). They had already spent 6 lakhs on his illness in the last one year, half of which was borrowed @ 3% monthly interest rate from a dominant caste money-lender, and has to be paid back now. Govindappa belongs to Bhovi caste included in the Scheduled Caste list in Karnataka. He used to clean latrine pits and tanks to earn his livelihood. This was not his traditional occupation though. His father worked as stone breaker which is the traditional occupation of the community in the region. Govindappa inherited 1 acre of unirrigated land which provided some ragi for domestic consumption but no income. To make ends meet, Govindappa had to take to this occupation.

Narayanamma, wife of late Govindappa, with a photo of her deceased husband in front of her house

As per 2011 Census, 88% of latrines in Beglihosahalli are connected to septic tanks while around 11 percent latrines are pit latrines. In a month he would be called to 8-10 houses for cleaning and emptying of pits for which he would be paid anywhere between Rs 200-300 making on an average Rs 2000-3000 per month. He was identified as a manual scavenger in March 2016 as part of a state-wide survey conducted by Rural Development and Panchayathi Raj Department and was promised rehabilitation as per Sec 13 of the PEMSR Act. The One-time Cash Assistance which should have been provided to him within a month of identification was provided to him on January 2018, 22 months (almost two years) later. By then, Govindappa was already battling with uncontrolled blood sugar levels. The OTCA was used to pay for the health expenses. He is survived by 4 sons, oldest son of age 21 years and youngest of 16 years age. Narayanamma suspects that two of her sons may also be going at night to clean pit latrines . No one from the Gram Panchayat or the Social Welfare Department contacted them about what the family would want to do as an alternative occupation, neither when Govindappa was alive, nor after his death. Narayannamma wants to set-up a grocery shop in the village and buy some cows to earn some income by selling milk. She estimates that she would need a loan of Rs 2 lakhs for these. While she has a site in the village, she wants to build a pucca house on it and needs financial assistance. Provision of these rehabilitation measures is vital to ensure that Govindappa’s family doesn’t continue in the occupation of manual scavenging. Because of their failure to implement these measures in a timely manner, the panchayath officials, officials from Social Welfare Department and from Safaikarmachari Development Corporation are guilty of perpetuating the practice of manual scavenging.

2. Late Oblappa (82 years), Kyalanuru Village, Kyalanuru GP, Kolar Taluka, Kolar District

Obalappa (82), now deceased

Oblappa (82 years at the time of death) belonged to a landless Adi-Karnataka (Madiga) family and spent his life carrying night soil and cleaning pits. His father did the same. Manual scavenging was the traditional occupation for Oblappa’s family. Kyalanuru Panchayat, where Oblappa worked has a large number of pit latrines (70% as per Census 2011), and several of them were ‘serviced’ by Oblappa till he couldn’t work anymore. In 2016, when he was registered as a manual scavengers, he thought he would be able to build a pucca house for his family and set-up some small business for his two sons who do coolie work in the sericulture farms in and around the village. He waited and waited but the One-time cash assistance that was promised to him never came. He was told to get a bank account and an Aadhar number if he wants to get the OTCA. He could hardly walk but he made several trips to open a bank account and an Aadhar number but even after several attempts to provide these details to the Social Welfare Department, they were never forwarded to NSKFDC for processing of the payment. Oblappa was older than this nation and its Constitution. The life of dignity which the independence movement promised, which the Constitution of India guaranteed and which the Parliament decreed through the PEMSR 2013, 66 years after independence, bypassed him.

Way Forward

In the FY 2015-16, the Government of Karnataka had set-up the Safaikarmachari Development Corporation to specifically cater to the needs of the safaikarmacharis. The need for a separate corporation was felt because the existing Dr. B R Ambedkar Development Corporation was unable to adequately serve the needs of the community. But since the establishment of the new corporation, the process of rehabilitation of identified manual scavengers in Karnataka has completely stalled. No new person has been provided any rehabilitation since the Safaikarmachari Development Corporation was made the nodal agency for the SRMS scheme. Meanwhile, several of those identified as manual scavengers, especially in rural areas continue in the same occupation or die waiting like Govindappa and Obalappa.


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