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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). This manual scavenging is not just a highly disgusting job but also detrimental to the individual’s health doing it. In India this practice was mostly made to be done by the SC, ST class. Even sacred literature and other scriptures mention the certain caste people only used for manual scavenging. Scavenging by some specific caste of India has existed since the beginning of civilization. This continued during the Buddhist and Mauryan period also. In India, Jahangir built a public toilet at Alwar, 120 km away from Delhi for 100 families in 1556 AD. The maintenance does not have much evidence. Scholars have suggested enclosed toilets were required for Mughal women which were cleaned by the manual scavengers. Dalits too were considered as the doers of this filthy occupation, and they were to be wretched and ‘untouchable’. On 26th January 1950, the Constitution of India came into force, with this the law of civil rights protection and the source of caste and class annihilation i.e., article 17 (abolition of untouchability) also came into force. It is thought to be most prevalent in Gujarat,5 Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Indian railways are one of the major causes for manual scavengers yet being practiced. The toilets are cleaned by them from the train and the tracks. Making any individual clean the toilets and remove human excretion with brooms or bare hands and making them carry to dumping grounds is an inhuman practice which should be stopped immediately.

Worldwide Taken Measures

The United Nations has recognised this problem recently. In 2009, the special rapporteurs constituted the sub-commission. They submitted a report against the manual scavenging work done by a certain caste, and this report played a major role in setting guidelines for such acts.

Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 which deals with issue of work-related discrimination and promotes the equality in employment and occupation and this convention states that government needs to adopt the laws for combating discrimination through creation of educational programmes for equal opportunity, adoption of national policy on equal opportunity, full cooperation with employers and workers organisation.

Social origin is one of the grounds of prohibited discrimination and ratified by India on June 3, 1960. Regarding forced labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has adopted Forced Labour Convention, 1930 to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms.

Even in n 2007, the annual report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the UN raised the question of the way castes were treated in reference to manual scavenging.

Constitutional provisions

Since manual scavengers belong to the backward section of society, they are entitled to some special rights apart from rights under the Indian constitution. Some of the important and relevant constitutional provisions are as follows:

  • Article 14: Equality before law (Right to Equality)
  • 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 etc
  • Article 41: Right to work, right to education and public assistance 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 47: Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
  • Article 338: Constitution of a National Commission for Scheduled Caste.

Legislative Framework

Apart from plethora of constitutional provisions the legislature has enacted several enactments for the upliftment of the schedule class including manual scavengers.

National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 199319

The Act established the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis to study, evaluate and monitor the implementation of various schemes for safaikaramcharis as an autonomous organization and also to redress their grievances. The Act is a welfare legislation enacted for the welfare of persons engaged in cleaning and plumbing jobs in various state departments.

The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

Initially the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 it protects people from the practice of untouchability and social disabilities happening to people from scheduled castes. It is now known as the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Under the amendment the act has become stricter and the punishment of anyone practising this has become higher.

Article 338 (5) of the constitution of India lays down certain duties of the NCSC21 like to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the scheduled castes

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

The Act was further strengthened, in relation to manual scavengers, by the recent amendments. The Act which was notified by the Central Government on January 1, 2016 makes it a punishable offence to employ, permit or make any person belonging to SC/ST community, to do manual scavenging. The contravention of the said provision attracts an imprisonment for a term not less than six months and may exceed to five years and fine.

Government appointed committees and commissions

  • Barve committee
  • Kaka kalekar commission
  • Central harijan welfare board (CHWB)
  • Malkani committee
  • Committee on customary rights
  • Pandya committee

Government/administrative schemes Indian Government has allocated resources to modernize sanitation. National sanitation schemes aimed at modernizing human waste management. SulabhShauchalaya Scheme (1974), Integrated Low-Cost Sanitation Scheme (1981), Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (2009) and recently the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan (2014) are some of the examples. Some schemes for the welfare of scavenging communities are

Self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavenging (SRMS)

In April 2007, the government initiated this scheme to liberate the manual scavengers and to rehabilitate them. The Central Government has revised the SRMS for rehabilitation of all the manual scavengers identified under the provisions of the Manual Scavengers Act, 2013.29.

National scheme of liberation and rehabilitation of scavengers and their dependents (NSLRSD)

Initiated in 1989, the main objective of the NSLSRD is to liberate manual scavengers from their existing hereditary inhuman occupation of manually removing night soil and filth and substitute them for an occupation with dignity. In 2003, a CAG report concluded that the scheme failed to achieve its objective involving investment of Rupees 600 crores. CAG report also pointed out that there was “lack of correspondence between ‘liberation’ and ‘rehabilitation’ and there was no evidence to suggest if those liberated were in fact rehabilitated.


Dehumanising practice of manual scavenging should be forbidden. It is a practice which should be abolished from all parts of India and be substituted with technology-based cleaning. 472 deaths from 2016 to 2020 and 26 deaths this year till date due to manual scavenging are recorded. On May 3, 2019, three labourers were choked to death while cleaning a septic tank in a private society in Nalasopara, near Mumbai. All these incidents show a spectrum that immediate laws are required to stop this practice.

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