Context: Even in 2020, the Indian government and our civil society continue to grapple with the inhuman nature of manual scavenging.
The current scenario in India
- While civil society started a movement in the 1990s to abolish dry latrines, the focus now is on manhole deaths and the provision of safety equipment to sanitation workers.
- The movement:
- The movement has been demanding the abolition of the dehumanizing practice of the manual removal of human excreta and calls for the introduction of mechanization for handling waste.
- The response of the government
- Various State governments and the Central governments have responded to these civil society demands by introducing different legislations to stop manual scavenging and provide incentives to build toilets.
- Currently, the Indian government seems to be framing the issue as a spectacle in the form of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and is addressing the problem in terms of an obstacle in the way of tourism promotion.
- Abysmal situation:
- During the last Chennai floods, sanitation workers from the Nilgiris district were made to travel in garbage trucks to Chennai.
- This situation has continued even during the coronavirus pandemic eg. in Tamil Nadu, sanitation workers are asked to work in newly formed COVID-19 wards.
- Mounting pressure from civil society, coupled with the intervention of the Supreme Court, forced the Center to conduct a survey of manual scavengers in 2013.
- The survey found that dry latrines and manual removal of human excreta still persisted.
- Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act in 1993
- The Act prohibited the construction of unsanitary dry latrines and employing manual scavengers.
- The Act had defined ‘manual scavenger’ as a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta.
- However, the government’s description of the dry latrine was a problem, as it defined dry latrine as “latrine other than a water-seal latrine”.
- Manual scavenging was not just a practice related to dry latrines, but also to insanitary latrines and open defecation.
- Safai Karamchari Andolan
- The Safai Karamchari Andolan, a social movement that campaigned against manual scavenging, along with other organizations, filed public interest litigation(PIL) in the Supreme Court.
- The demand was to direct State governments and Union Territories to strictly enforce the law to stop the practice of manual removal of human excreta.
- Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act,2013
- Though the construction of dry latrines has drastically reduced, the number of deaths in manholes, sewers and septic tanks continues to remain high.
- The Indian government had plans to amend the 2013 Act to completely mechanize the cleaning of sewers and manholes and build new sewers.
- However, neither the past nor the present amendment addresses the issue of labor safety.
- Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
- The same is the case with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which skirts the issue of labor rights and the stigma attached to sanitation.
- Also, not only toilets but even cleaning work is seen as a lowly job in India.
- Most sanitation contracts are given to private contractors or self-help groups, and such staff hardly have ID cards, leave alone the protection of medical insurance policies.
- Guidelines related to work
- Unlike other labor forces, sanitation workers need to have a separate rule-book that lays down guidelines for their work timings, holidays, a proper place for roll call, removal from duty, etc
- There is a need to provide vehicles for sanitation workers to travel to their designated workspaces.
- Urgent need to dissociate caste from labor
- There are hardly any exclusive trade unions for sweepers.
- And unlike other sections in government or private workforce, their problems are voiced by only those who are not associated with sanitation work often NGOs.
- This is mostly because in India, sanitation work is caste-ridden and hence, there is an urgent need to dissociate caste from labor.
After reading this article, answer the following question for Mains answer writing practice. Also you can get your answer checked free of cost by clicking on the following link.
Q. Even in 2020, the Indian government and our civil society continue to grapple with the inhuman nature of manual scavenging. Discuss