508 districts in the country are free of manual scavenging

Context: Recently Ministry of  Social Justice and Empowerment has reported that 508 districts in the country are free of manual scavenging.

What is manual scavenging?

manual scavenging
  • Manual scavenging is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewers or septic tanks.
  • In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was also broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks.

Why is manual scavenging still prevalent in India?

  • The lack of enforcement of the Act
  • The exploitation of unskilled labourers.
  • Caste-based occupation and discrimination.

Consequences of Manual Scavenging

  • Many people lose their lives while cleaning septic tanks every year for example, On May 11, 2019, three men in their 20s were killed after they inhaled toxic fumes while cleaning a septic tank at a housing society in Thane.
  • People engaged in manual scavenging are illiterate and they lose the chance to get any other meaningful skill.
  • When young people died, their families become more vulnerable to economic and social discrimination.
  • Family of manual scavengers get trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and social discrimination.

Steps were taken to eliminate manual scavenging

  • India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
  • The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
  • The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”
  • A campaign has been launched by Ministry to machine sewers and septic tanks in 243 cities.
  • A helpline was created under the same campaign to register complaints if manual scavenging is reported. 

Concerns over implementation

  • The biggest issue is, the government has not yet identified the people involved in manual scavenging.
  • There is no mechanism to decide who will receive the machines, who will monitor them and who will be held accountable for the implementation. 
  • Lack of adequate mechanics of rehabilitation of manual scavengers.
  • Caste-based discrimination prevents them from entering other occupations.
  • Due to p[oerverty and illiteracy they are not in a position to get skill training.

Way forward

  • Improve literacy rate and quality of education at grass root level in government schools because the lower caste people don’t have the resources to afford private education.
  • Provide meaningful employment at the local level so that their bargaining power can be improved.
  • Strict action should be taken against those who violate the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
  • The mechanisation of cleaning of sewer and septic tanks in mission mode.

Mains practice question

In your opinion, what causes the continuation of the inhumane practice of manual scavenging? Suggest some measures to eliminate this menace.  (150 words, 10 marks)

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