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Govt. of India instructed to end manual scavenging by 2021

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

The Indian government announced a numbered of measures to end the bigotry and precarious practice of manual scavenging by August 2021. Manual scavenging is the practice/act of removing human excrement from the septic tank, toilet, or sewers by hand/manually

The measures taken are a part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India initiative) which was launched by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's government, and seek to impose laws that must have banned the practice.

Recently Madras High Court on 16th March suggested that it is high time for the heads of Corporations and Municipalities held personally liable for any death to any person engaged in manual scavenging within their jurisdiction. Noting that the corporation and municipalities may have stopped directly employing manual scavenging work, the Court however observed that the contractors are being engaged for the purpose of same and Corporations and Municipalities officials look the other way, while manual scavengers are still sent down the pits to carry out feces on their heads as they come up.

India has struggled to enforce laws banning unsafe practices. Under the new measures, sewer and septic tank cleaning will be mechanized, with funds directly transferred to sanitation workers to buy cleaning machines.

India began outlawing the employment of manual scavengers in 1993, expanding the law in 2013 — but the little impact has been seen on the ground, as hundreds of people continued to be pushed into the profession.

Scavenging is mostly carried out by a sub-group of the Dalits, an outcast community also known as "untouchables" within India's ancient system of caste hierarchies.

"Untouchables" are often impoverished, shunned by society, and forbidden from touching Indians of other castes, or even their food.

In 2013, India expanded the definition of manual scavengers to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, and railway tracks — but the practice continued.

Last year, government data showed 110 people died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. In related news, the Karnataka High Court in December 2020 issued several directions to the state government to ensure proper implementation of the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

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