MANUAL SCAVENGING: A STRENCH OF SUFFOCATION AND DEHUMANISATION
Author: Sukriti, II year of B.A.,LL.B. from KIIT School of Law
Even after so many decades of freedom, India's waste management systems are not up to grade, and manual scavenging has still been practiced in many regions of the nation, despite the fact that India has the world's second-largest demographic after China. Scavengers are poor individuals who are socioeconomically backward. They live affluent but dangerous lifestyles and labor in unsanitary conditions. The absence of state assistance, insufficient literacy, underdeveloped technology, and religious beliefs regarding scavengers are all incompatible.
Manual scavenging is performed by a group of individuals known as "Dalits," who correspond to a certain community that is designated to this task due to religious beliefs in India. This study examines the many sorts of pollutants handled by scavengers, as well as the conditions of employment and living standards of those who execute scavenging activities. It also emphasizes the need to change attitudes and legislation around manual scavenging. It acknowledges that the stigma associated with manual scavenging and the dehumanizing behavior is proof of the Constitution's, leaders, and people's failures, and that, in this way, the article initiatives the need for modernization through increasing recognition and stringent enforcement of principles and strategy to meet the restrictions of the legally and morally government in which this battle now exists.
Manual scavenging is the process of physically cleaning human excrement and trash from drains, open pits, raw sewage, and unsanitary toilets. Hand equipment including buckets, brooms, and shovels are commonly used by manual scavengers. These sanitation workers, known as "manual scavengers," are rarely outfitted with personal protection equipment. It is thought that the work is dehumanizing. It's the most revolting thing to do, yet it's the only way to earn money for some. Although manual scavenging has received much-needed attention, its legacy continues to linger throughout society. Despite the fact that everyone is taught the value of cleanliness, our society and morals can never be pure as long as physical scavenging is practiced. More than half a thousand manual scavengers cleanse, transfer, and dispose of untreated sewage and everything else that we waste down the toilet around the nation, from storm sewers to septic systems and railway lines. They force their way into clogged sewers and sewer systems, where they stay for hours, sweeping muck with their bare hands and smelling like sewage. Hundreds of manual scavengers suffer every year as a result of hazardous fumes. In India, the installation of dry toilets and the use of manual scavengers to clean them were outlawed in 1993. In 2013, the law was amended to include a prohibition on the use of human workers for the direct maintenance of drains, canals, trenches, and sewer systems. Manual scavenging was reported in various states in 2014, particularly in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, despite the rules. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported in 2021 that the elimination of manual scavenging, as stated by state and local administrations, is still far from complete.
THE IMMENSITY OF THE PROBLEM
Manual scavenging is still legal in most jurisdictions, despite the fact that it has been forbidden for a long time. For each household they maintain, those operating for metropolitan governments are paid Rs. 30–40 per day, while those working individually are given Rs. 5 per month. In many cultures, scavengers are expected to remove deceased animal corpses and carry death notices to the family of their upper-caste neighbors in return for food scraps. If they refuse, they may face physical violence as well as social exclusion. Furthermore, the amount of people engaged as scavengers is unknown due to a lack of solid baseline information. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment reported in March 2003 that the number had risen to 7.67 lakhs. Women and kids make up the bulk of rubbish pickers. The scavengers are left with the impression that this is their job and that they can do nothing else, so they refuse to discuss it.
STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act, both passed by the government in 1993, is examples of early legislation. The Act was repealed in 2013, and the Parliament passed the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (hereafter referred to as Act, 2013). The Act of 2013, on the other hand, was a welcome relief because it addressed a number of issues that had been missed by the previous Act. The main goal of the Act of 2013 was to rehabilitate those working as manual scavengers, as the issue could not be remedied without treatment. The 2013 Act forbids the use of unsanitary latrines. Furthermore, individuals who have unsanitary toilets must dismantle them, and if they do not, the authorities will demolish them and punish the owner. The Act, once again, lacks reality and does not address the concerns of the impoverished. Dry latrines are primarily built and owned by the impoverished. This is also the group for whom water is a scarce resource.
As a result, enforcing penalties and destruction orders is likewise impractical. The Act of 2013 also establishes criminal culpability, which includes a fine of up to 5 lakhs and a maximum sentence of five years in prison (Section 9). The crime is classified as both cognizable and non-bailable (Section 22). Despite having such a stringent law, the Act of 2013 has resulted in zero prosecutions. The Law also provides for the restoration of manual scavengers through one-time cash aid, housing, and scholarships for family members' children, legal representation, subsidized loans, and civic knowledge and professional training (Section 13). Despite the fact that the government has planned such gradual steps toward rehabilitation, many people have been compelled to revert to manual scavenging. Due to a hostile atmosphere and a lack of social acceptance, they were obliged to return. Furthermore, rehabilitation is complicated by the fact that the manual scavenger must confess his or her name to the authorities. Individuals are afraid and hesitant to come forward to confess and identify themselves to the authorities since there is a societal boycott of such people and a stigma associated with the nature of their profession. After all, caste-based prejudice has not been erased, so the concept of cleanliness and filth is at the root of why manual scavengers are shunned. As a result, it is a clear infringement of one's civil rights. Scavenging by hand is a form of severe labor. Because municipal companies subcontract the repair of sewer systems, sewage, and other infrastructure to private contractors, the practice of using manual scavengers continues.
These contractors are the ones who use manual scavengers without even any protective clothing or equipment for cleaning. This means that it is the government officials who keep the manual scavenging cycle running. Manual scavenging is carried out in full view of the government and the general public, yet no action or response is taken to put an end to this indecent and repugnant behavior. Manual scavenging is a stain on Indian democracy; it breaches of articles 15 and 17 of the Constitution by discrimination on the grounds of caste and practicing untouchability because those forced into the activity are from the lowest socioeconomic classes. As stated in Safai Karmachari Andolan v. UoI, it also infringes Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution because the practice is a kind of forced labor that restricts an individual of their right to life. Furthermore, the state's obligations under Articles 42 and 46 of the Directive Principle for State Policy, which provide for compassionate working conditions and the development of the expectations of the disadvantaged group by safeguarding them from social equality and all forms of oppression, respectively, are not being met.
ADOPTION OF TECHNOLOGY TO END MANUAL SCAVENGING
We will not be able to remove manual scavenging unless we develop advanced strategies. Around 15 ideas have apparently been created across the nation to reduce traditional scavenging. According to sources, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Service and Sewerage Board are clearing clogged sewer pipes with 70 micro jetting devices that can access side lanes and smaller communities. A team of developers in Thiruvananthapuram has created a spider-shaped drone that rinses manhole covers and drains with accuracy. While innovation is deemed critical to eradicating this problem, Ashif Shaikh, the founder of Jan Sahas social development organization, believes that relying solely on innovative services to eliminate manual scavenging may not be effective. “It is a social and gender issue that may be eliminated by raising awareness of its faults among the general public. In 2012-13, we organized a national march that spanned 200 districts in 18 states. Our goal was to educate women about their right to live in respect. During that yatra, we released about 6,000 women, and we have freed about 30,000 scavengers thus far,” Shaikh tells Down To Earth.
THE EFFECT OF COVID 19 AND THE SANITATION
COVID-19 not only brought about several new advances in society, but it also brought to light a portion of society that had hitherto been overlooked. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare rules, sanitation workers, or Safai Karamcharis, were given N-95 masks and PPE kits for those working at the point of entry. Manual scavengers were once again held captive and ignored by public officials. According to reports, the Manual scavengers' working conditions, methods, and safety have not changed.
In the case of Harnam Singh v. UOI, it was determined that bio-medical waste discarded in public dumping areas can serve as breeding areas for COVID-19 contamination in persons who come into direct touch with the disposed of trash. The Court went on to say that this is a cause for worry because manual scavengers would be the first to catch the sickness and spread the dangerous virus.
Even though that manual scavenging has historical and societal grounds, it continues to be practiced in the country due to poverty and ignorance. Manual scavenging is a dangerous activity that deprives a person of their constitutionally protected fundamental rights. While India continues to develop at a constant speed, the government must work to reintegrate manual scavengers into society so that they can participate with healthy and capable bodies. The Indian government has reviewed the manual scavengers Act several times, but little has come of it. The only way forward is to severely enforce the regulations and punish those that hire people to do manual scavenging. Furthermore, to put an end to the practice, the government must address physical and structural issues linked to cleanliness, sludge control, and sewage modernization. The Ministry of Social Justice recognized and acknowledged something similar in its National Action for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem Plan, which yet to be has implemented it is past time for the government, and even the community, to take the required steps to end manual scavenging. Manual scavenging is a suffocating and stigmatizing legacy that persists despite proper legislation. Addressing caste-based prejudice and correcting it by equitably enforcing existing laws can help put an end to this abomination. Cooperation between the federal and state governments may be beneficial in removing the barriers.
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