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Critical Analysis of Law on Manual Scavenging in India By Rashmi Jain

November 10,2018:

The Author, Rashmi Jain is a 5th year BBA.LLB (H) student of ICFAI (Indian Chartered Financial Analysis) Law School, Hyderabad. She is currently interning with LatestLaws.com.

What is Manual Scavenging?

Manual scavenging is the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling human and animal excreta from dry latrines, sewers and streets.

Manual Scavenging in India
Manual Scavenging in India Pic Source: Quint

The 1993 Act prohibiting manual scavenging defines “manual scavenger” as “a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta”.

Who can be termed as Manual Scavenger?

Any person who has been employed to handle decomposed human waste from an insanitary latrine, open drain or pit or railway track is a manual scavenger under this law.

  • The person can be appointed by the villager, agent or contractor in the particular village.
  • The person can be appointed as regular or contract basis irrespective of nature of the employment he will be covered under it.
  • If a person is appointed to clean human waste with the help of the appropriate protective gear and equipment will not be considered a manual scavenger under this law.

The people called ‘safai karamcharis’ are also sometimes considered as manual scavengers – however, they usually refer to people working as sweepers or cleaning workers in the municipalities, government or private organisations. But In a Country like India and in many metropolitan cities we find safai karmacharis being not provided protective gear or sufficient.

In the case of Safai Karamchari Andolan And Ors vs Union Of India And Ors[1] , The Supreme Court observed the following points, which were even observed in a survey and assessment study done by the Union Government.

If the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to a close and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to include:-

  • Sewer deaths – entering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For each such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased.
  • Railways – should take time bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks.
  • Persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law.
  • Provide support for dignified livelihood to safai karamchari women in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.

Legislative framework   prohibiting and limiting manual scavenging in India-

The practice of manual scavenging is not legal in India. Various laws which are in support say no to Manual Scavenging because it against the human dignity and life the laws which are supporting the same;

  • The Protection of Civil Rights Act (1955) made it an offense to compel any person to practice manual scavenging.
  • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act (1993) punished the employment of manual scavengers or the construction of dry latrines with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of 2000 rupees.
  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and  their  Rehabilitation Act(2013) superseded the 1993 Act and outlaws all forms of manual scavenging, prescribing penalties for those who perpetuate the practice and protecting those who engage in it.
  • The 2013 Rehabilitation Act also commits to providing alternate livelihoods and other assistance (such as cash payments, scholarships for children, housing and other legal and programmatic assistance) to help rehabilitate former manual scavengers. However, it is again the discretion of the local governments to comply with these rules and regulations.

However everybody knows it is against the human dignity even the people who are working they are also not happy with it but to earn their livelihood they have take such steps. There are many laws which prohibit this at the same time but it is not followed in a stricter sense so the government have to collectively ensure its effective implementation on the ground by being sensitive and alert to infringements of the rights against the human dignity.

National Scheme Of Liberation And Rehabilitation Of Scavengers And Their Dependents (NSLRSD)-

Started 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 to provide for and engage them in alternative and dignified occupations. In 2003, a CAG report concluded that scheme failed to achieve its objective involving investment of Rupees 600 crores. CAG report also pointed that there was “lack of coordination between ‘liberation’ and ‘rehabilitation’ and there was no evidence to suggest if those liberated were in fact rehabilitated.[2]

Critical Analysis Of Legal Framework On Manual Scavenging In India-

  • Any person who has been employed to handle unrecompensed human waste from an insanitary latrine, open drain or pit or railway track is a manual scavenger under this law.
  • The person could have been employed by any one – say, someone from their village or by an agency or contractor.
  • It does not matter if she was given regular employment or engaged on contract basis, she is covered under this law.

Exception – Any person who has been employed to clean human waste and does so with the help of the appropriate protective gear and equipment will not be considered a manual scavenger under this law. But , the standards of protective gear differs from state to state and city to city .

Another group of people called ‘safai karamcharis’ are also sometimes considered as manual scavengers – however, they usually refer to people working as sweepers or cleaning workers in the municipalities, government or private organizations.

The plight of cleaning , municipal workers was further highlighted in the case of Delhi Jal Board v. National Campaign for Dignity & Rights of Sewerage& Allied Workers[3],wherein the court outlined the following facts – the apathy and plight of the disadvantaged sections of the society,

particularly the scavengers and sewage workers, who risk their lives by going down the drainage without any safety equipment and security and have been deprived of fundamental rights to equality, life and liberty for last more than six decades. In the said case, The apex Court also referred to a Report ( “Health & Safety Status of Sewage Workers in Delhi”) Published by Centre for Education and Communication in collaboration with Occupational Health & Safety Management) wherein the following points were highlighted “The workers are suffering from high mortality and morbidity due to exposure at workplace. 33 workers had died in last 2 years due to accidents while working on the blocked sewer lines 59% of the workers enter underground sewer manholes more than 10 times a month and half of them have to work more than 8hours a day… 41workers have reported syncope, and other 24reported temporary loss of consciousness. A little over 1/3 of the workers had been immunized against tetanus while none of them had been vaccinated against hepatitis B. Approximately 46 % of workers across all age group were found to be underweight according to Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation. All daily wagers were getting a wage of approximately 2950 rupees per months without any other benefit irrespective of service period.”

The Apex Court also pulled up the government and the state apparatus on being insensitive to the safety and wellbeing of those who are, on account of sheer poverty, compelled to work under most unfavourable conditions and regularly face the threat of being deprived of their life. Supreme Court also reprimanded the elitist mindset of the wealthy class with regard to public interest litigation / Pro Bono litigation.


2.Safai Karamchari Andolan v. Union of India (2014)11SCC 224

3.2011 (8) SCC 568.

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