Manual Scavenging - A Social Evil

Introduction -

It has been 73 years since India achieved Independence, yet the most inhuman practice i.e. Manual scavenging still exist in parts of India. Manual Scavenging is carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit. Scavengers usually use hand tools such as buckets, brooms and shovels. The work is being regarded as a caste-based, dehumanizing practice. The workers have to move the excreta, using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which they carry to disposal locations sometimes several kilometers away. The government of India has passed various legislation to put an end to this inhuman practice.

Laws relating to Manual Scavenging:

The Indian Constitution had laid down safeguards for the workers and factory men. Under the Economic and Social Principles, The Directive Principles of State Policy provides -

· Securing suitable employment and healthy working conditions for men, women and children

· Guarding the children against exploitation and moral degradation

· Making provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief

· Taking steps to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertaking, etc.

Hence, such health security should be equally available and accessible to all citizens working in both organized and unorganized sectors.


The Act was passed in 2013. This act was passed provide for the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Some of the provisions of the act are -

·  This Act may be called the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

· It extends to the whole of India.

· “Sanitary latrine” means a latrine which is not an ‘insanitary latrine’;

· “Septic tank” means a water-tight settling tank or chamber, normally located underground, which is used to receive and hold human excreta, allowing it to decompose through bacterial activity;

· Carry out a survey of insanitary latrines existing within its jurisdiction, and publish a list of such insanitary latrines, in such manner as may be prescribed, within a period of two months from the date of commencement of this Act;

Therefore, this law not only directs government authority to make sanitary latrines but also directs the rehabilitation of people who were indulge in the work of manual scavenging.

In the case of Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors vs. Union of India and Ors, Supreme Court gave the following directions to the government authority- ;

· The persons included in the final list of manual scavengers Under Sections 11 and 12 of the 2013 Act, shall be rehabilitated as per the provisions of Part IV of the 2013 Act, in the following manner, namely:

(a) Such initial, one time, cash assistance, as may be prescribed;

(b) Their children shall be entitled to scholarship as per the relevant scheme of the Central Government or the State Government or the local authorities, as the case may be;

(c) They shall be allotted a residential plot and financial assistance for house construction, or a ready-built house with financial assistance, subject to eligibility and willingness of the manual

Scavenger as per the provisions of the relevant scheme;

(d) At least one member of their family, shall be given, subject to eligibility and willingness, training in livelihood skill and shall be paid a monthly stipend during such period;

(e) At least one adult member of their family, shall be given, subject to eligibility and willingness, subsidy and concessional loan for taking up an alternative occupation on sustainable basis, as per the provisions of the relevant scheme;

(f) Shall be provided such other legal and programmatic assistance, as the Central Government or State Government may notify in this behalf.

·  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:

(a) 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.

(b) Railways-should take time bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks.

 (c) Persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law.

(d) Provide support for dignified livelihood to Safai Karamchari women in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.

· Identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs for each such death to the family members depending on them.

· Rehabilitation must be based on the principles of justice and transformation.

Conclusion -

The Supreme Court has mas made it clear that manual scavenging must be banned and compensation must be given to those who died while working as manual scavengers. Although specifically banned by a law passed in 2003 manual scavenging continues with Census 2011 estimating that nearly 8 lakh people were involved in it. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the government to take swift measures to end the system. However, despite the apex court's strict directions, things have not changed and over 1300 people have died in septic tanks or sewers while doing this job and the practice still prevails because laws are not implemented properly. Thus, it is necessary for the government to implement laws properly to ensure that this inhuman practice ends.


T. Ajay Shankar

Tamil Nadu National Law University

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