ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Manual Scavenging Must End

Manual scavenging is a caste-based occupation wherein certain sub-castes of Dalits are condemned to manually clean, carry, dispose or handle human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. Though it has been constitutionally banned for more than 20 years now, it is still widely prevalent in the country. As per the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others v Union of India and Others delivered in March 2014, there are 96 lakh dry latrines in India, all of which obviously employ people for cleaning them. Besides, every other day, there are numerous newspaper reports of deaths of workers while cleaning sewers without adequate protective gear or equipment. The people involved in the work are Dalits, of which 98% are women, making this also a question of gender discrimination.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 explicitly banned the practice of manual scavenging and continuance of dry latrines. This act was, however, riddled with loopholes and was never adequately implemented as it was limited in scope to only six states, and thus made no impact. In 2013, Parliament passed another act called the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act. This act was much more comprehensive in that it laid out statutory requirements to identify manual scavengers and for provision of alternate employment to them. The act also covered workers involved in cleaning sewers, tanks and open railway tracks. Further, as mentioned above, in March 2014, the Supreme Court passed a judgment on the writ petition filed in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others v Union of India and Others, which declared the practice of manual scavenging in violation of Articles 14, 17, 21 and 23 of the Constitution. It issued directives for the proper implementation of the 1993 and 2013 legislations as well.

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