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Manual Scavenging can be defined as “removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters, and sewers,” According to a national survey conducted in 18 states, there are 48,345 manual scavengers identified till January 31, 2020.It is sad that after 73 years of independence, so many statutes, committees, schemes still many manual scavengers clean the human excreta with bare hands and broom.


RIGHT TO LIFE (Article 21) guarantees human dignity as an inalienable right. ‘Dignity’ includes equal treatment, protection of the law, and equal respect. Despite constitutional provisions, international conventions & acts, the practice of manual scavenging is rampant. The following is a list of constitutional provisions relating to the right of equality, dignity before the law:

  • Article 14 – Equality before law

  • Article 16(2)- Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment

  • Article 17- Abolition of untouchability

  • Article 19(1)(a)- Right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

  • Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty

  • Article 23- Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour

  • Article 41-Right to work, to education and public assistances in certain circumstances

  • Article 42- Just and humane conditions of work

  • Article 46- Promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections

  • Article 338- Constitution of National Commission of Schedule Caste.

There are several laws regarding manual scavenging:

  • The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

  • The Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

  • Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

  • National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993

  • National commission for schedule caste (NCSC) 2004

  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

India is a party to international conventions that obligates to end manual scavenging:

  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),

  • the International Covenant on Economic,

  • Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

  • the committee on the rights of the child and the elimination of racial discrimination ( CERD)

  • The elimination of racial discrimination (CERD).


The Government of India has constituted various committees to suggest recommendations for the manual scavengers:

Barve committee

The committee is popularly known as the Scavengers’ Living condition enquiry committee in 1949 to research the living conditions of the scavengers in the state of Bombay and suggest measures to improve their conditions of work and to fix their minimum wages.

Kaka Kalekar commission

This committee was also known as the first backward commission. The committee made some observations:

  1. The conditions of manual scavengers are very bad, they are living as sub-humans.

  2. They are still using an outdated techniques of night soil removal and sanitation( removal of human waste manually).

Central Harijan Welfare Board

The board was formed under Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant. The board suggested for the enactment of centrally sponsored schemes for manual scavengers.

Malkani committee

The committed was headed by Professor N.R. Malkani. The committee blamed the dry latrines for the existence of the manual scavenging act in India.

Committee on Customary rights

This committee made an important observation that where scavenging has not municipalized the latrines were cleaned privately, and one particular scavenger acquired hereditary rights to clean such latrines as against another scavenger by an understanding and agreement.

Pandya committee

The committee recommended for the enactment of central legislation to regulate the working condition, living condition of the sweeper and to make a proper mechanism for the enforcement.


Delhi Jal Board v. National Campaign for Dignity & Rights of Sewerage& Allied Workers -

In this case, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment pointing out:

  • Condition of the disadvantaged sections

  • Scavengers who have to clean the sewage, drainage, and that too many times without safety equipment

  • Asked the government to pay the compensation to them.

SAFAI KARAMCHARI ANDOLAN AND Ors Vs UNION OF INDIA And Ors-A writ petition was filed as PIL praying for issuance of a writ of mandamus to the union of India, State Government and Union territories to strictly enforce implementation of the Employment of ‘ Manual Scavengers and construction of dry latrines, 1993.The court brought on record the fact that while there were over 12 lakhs manual scavengers cleaning 96 lakh dry toilets, 95 percent of them were Dalits, who were compelled to do manual scavenging under the tag of “traditional occupation.” Then the court issued certain directions which are as follows:

  1. Persons included in the final list of manual scavengers under sections 11 and 12 of the 2013 Act.

  2. One time cash assistance,

  3. Children should be given scholarship as per the scheme of central govt or state govt or local authorities,

  4. Should be given a residential plot and financial assistance for house construction, or ready built house with financial aid, subject to eligibility and willingness of manual scavenger as per provisions,

  5. One member of the family, to be given training in livelihood skill and paid a monthly stipend,

  6. One member of the family, be given subsidy and concessional loan for taking alternative occupation,

  7. Provided other legal and programmatic assistance, as central or state government may notify,

  8. Identify families of all persons who have died in sewerage work since 1993 & award compensation to the family.


Justice in this case said that it is the duty of the court to acquaint itself with the issues affecting the people who subject themselves to such hazardous and dangerous life. The court gave compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the family of Chenchaiah, who died of asphyxia while cleaning a drain.


  1. The Act highlights the link between the manual scavengers and weaker sections of society. It, therefore considers manual scavenging as being against their right to dignity.

  2. It shows that there is a need for a detailed vigilance mechanism and monitoring committee at various levels( district, state, centre).

  3. Under the Act, the various authority like at local level (local authority), at cantonment level and railway authority are responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction. They are responsible for constructing sanitary community latrines.

  4. Every person owning insanitary latrines must convert or demolish the latrine at his own cost. If he does not do so, the local authority shall convert the latrine and recover the cost from him.

  5. It does not allow the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger, its violations could result in a years’ imprisonment or fine of 50,000 Rs or both.

  6. Offences under the particular act are cognizable and non-bailable.


  • According to Section 2(g) (explanation) states that where protective gear is provided, the person employed to do the task would not be deemed a manual scavenger. So, manual scavenging with protective gear is not considered to be manual scavenging. Section 2(d) – talks about protective gear. The responsibility of providing protective gear is with the employer. However, since municipal cleaning is given to contractors, this responsibility comes on private contractors who have to comply with the rules formed under the act.

  • Section 2(1) (e) exclude the Indian railways’ water flush latrine when cleaned with protective gears from the definition of insanitary latrines. In contrast the government-run Indian Railways’ is responsible for a large number of manual scavengers in the country.

  • The term schedule in the act includes Dalit Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, excluding Dalit women from Muslims and Christians. At the same time, it is estimated that there are 1.3 million Dalits, especially women, employed in manual scavenging.

  • The Act permits a summary trial of the offender and therefore compromises on the gravity of the offence. The Act does not provide for time- bound conversion of insanitary latrines to sanitary ones.

  • The 2013 Act says that any such work involving a person entering a manhole must be done before 6 p.m, and thus employers ask the men to enter manholes post- sunset as late as 1 a.m.

  • The definition of manual scavenging is very narrow. It only includes manually cleaning of human excreta. It should be broadened to ‘ manual collection, source separation, storage, transportation, transfer processing, treatment & disposal of solid waste and the proper handling, treatment, and disposal of waste.’ Waste should also include bio-medical waste, hazardous waste, etc.

  • There is no proper mechanism for accountability to end manual scavenging. Under this Act, 2013, district magistrates and local authorities are responsible for the implementation of the PEMSR Act, 2013. The PEMSR Act, 2013 provides for the state government to conduct special trials. Complaints should be made before the court within three months of committing the offense. The district authority responsible for adjudicating offenses may also be responsible for implementing the law leading to the potential conflict of interest.

  • Alternative employment opportunities for people engaged in manual scavenging are not available. They must have access to alternate employment. Due to economic and social boycotts, they find difficulty in entering the labour market.

  • There are inadequate surveys. According to SC, governments’ surveys have been ineffective. There are different figures about the no. of manual scavengers in India. For instance,

  • National Safai Karamchari Commission 3rd and 4th Report - 5,77,228 manual scavengers;

  • 2002-03 report of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment - 6,76,009 manual scavengers;

  • Safaikaramchari Andolan (NGO) working for manual scavengers) report - 1.2 million manual scavengers.

  • Socio- Economic Caste Census report of 2011 - 1, 80, 657 manual scavengers.

Thus, there is a need for a proper periodic survey, at proper time interval so that the correct number of manual scavengers can be known. Either the government or government in collaboration with non- governmental organizations (NGOs) can conduct such surveys.

  • One of the reasons for the lack of implementation of the existing laws relating to the manual scavengers is due to the mismatch between schemes, statutory provisions and infrastructure, sanitation campaigns, and people’s will.


Some of the initative taken at the national level by the government towards modernizing sanitation are the Self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavenging (SRMS), National scheme of liberation and rehabilitation of scavengers and their dependents (NSLRSD), Sulabh Shauchalaya Scheme (1974), Integrated Low Cost Sanitation Scheme (1981), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (2009) and Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan (2014).

The prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is a progressive step. The bill proposes to:

1. Mechanize sewer cleaning, provide better protection at work.

2. Punishment for engaging any person in manual scavenging has become more stringent by increasing the imprisonment term and fine amount.

3. Elimination of dangerous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.

For the provisions in the new law to be effectively implemented, it is necessary that sufficient resources and training are provided to activate the monitoring mechanisms in collaboration with manual scavenging communities, rights activists, and civil society organizations.

A proper framework for the eradication of manual scavenging should be made after the categorization of sanitation workers — such as faecal sludge handlers, sewage treatment plant sanitation workers, toilet sanitation workers, sewer and drain sanitation workers, etc. Workshop to create awareness about the issue of sanitation workers, latest equipment machines, protective gear, etc. An Emergency response sanitation unit should be set up. It is headed by a senior civic officer and other civic officers should be in the advisory board. There should be effective coordination between private and public authorities, community coming together, sanitation awareness, a strong executive will, etc to make INDIA MANUAL SCAVENGING MUKT BHARAT.

By Himani Mishra

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