Prelims cum Mains Social Issues

620 sewer cleaners killed since 1993, most in TN, Gujarat

In News

  • According to Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, a total 620 cases of sewer cleaning deaths were reported in 15 states reported since 1993.


Background  – SC judgement:

  • The Supreme Court in 2014 directed states and UTs to identify all deaths of persons involved in cleaning of sewers and septic tanks that occurred since 1993.
  • The court said a compensation of Rs 10 lakh must be paid to the family of the deceased.
  • Rehabilitation:
    • Safaikaramchari women should be provided support for dignified livelihood in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.
    • Children of manual scavengers should be entitled to scholarships as per the relevant scheme of the Central or state governments.
    • At least one member of their family, shall be given training in livelihood skill and be paid monthly stipend.
    • At least one adult member shall be given subsidy and concessional loan for taking up an alternative occupation on sustainable basis.

News Summary:

  • Of the 620 sewer cleaning deaths, the highest number of cases at 144 are from Tamil Nadu followed by 131 from Gujarat and 75 cases from Karnataka.
  • Of all the cases, full compensation has been paid in 445 cases and partial payment has been made in 58 cases.
  • The other states and UTs that have reported high cases of such deaths include Uttar Pradesh (71), Haryana (51), Rajasthan (33), Punjab (30) and Delhi (28).

In focus: Manual Scavenging

  • “Manual scavenger” means a person engaged for manually cleaning, or handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of before the excreta fully decomposes.

Image result for Manual Scavenging


  • The Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011 counted over 1.82 lakh families that had at least one member employed in manual scavenging.
  • The 2011 census recorded more than 7.4 lakh households that have their waste and faecal matter cleared out by manual scavengers.
  • Rights groups Safai Karamchari Andolan pegs the number of manual scavengers across India at over 7 lakh.
  • Unofficial records put the number of deaths of manual scavengers inside sewers, septic tanks and sewage pits at over 1500 since 2013.



  • There have been two legislations concerning this particular occupation.
  • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993.
  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • Manual scavenging was outlawed in the country in 1993 but it was only in 2013 that the law recognized other hazardous aspects of the work.
  • Despite being a stringent legislation, the utilisation of the Act has not been impressive.


The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013


  • The Bill prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment and the construction of insanitary latrines.
  • It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.


Institutional Setup

  • The District Magistrate and the local authority (municipality, Panchayat, a cantonment board or railway authority) shall be the implementing authorities.
  • Monitoring Committees: The central government shall constitute a Central Monitoring Committee and every state government a State Monitoring Committee. These Committees shall advise the appropriate government and local authorities on effective implementation of the law.
  • Vigilance Commission: Every state government shall constitute a Vigilance Commission for each district. The Commission shall advise the District Magistrate on the implementation of the law, oversee rehabilitation and monitor the registration, investigation and prosecution of offences.
  • NCSK: The National Commission for SafaiKaramcharis (a statutory body) shall monitor the implementation of this Act, inquire into complaints of contravention of the Act and advice the central and state government on effective implementation of the Act.



  • Offences under the Bill shall be cognizable and non-bailable
  • Individual: If any person employs a manual scavenger or constructs an insanitary latrine, he shall be penalized with imprisonment up to one year or a fine of upto Rs50,000 or both. The penalty for subsequent offences is higher.
  • Agency: Every local authority or agency is prohibited from employing a person for hazardous cleaning (manual cleaning without protective gear and other safety precautions) of a sewer or a septic tank. The penalty for violation is imprisonment for up to two years or a fine up to Rs 2 lakh or both.
  • The offences under this Act may be tried by an Executive Magistrate on whom the state government may confer powers of a Judicial Magistrate.



  • The existing law prohibiting manual scavenging was enacted under the State List. There could be an argument for Parliament’s jurisdiction to enact this Bill as this regulates conditions of work, and is thus a Concurrent List item.
  • Neither the state nor the centre is mandated under the Bill to provide financial assistance for the conversion of insanitary latrines. This adversely impacts implementation of the Bill.
  • A state government can grant the Executive Magistrate the judicial power to try offences under the Bill. This may create a conflict of interest if the Executive Magistrate is also the implementing authority.


Why does it still continue?

  • Lack of sanitary latrines: The prime reason why manual scavenging continues, is the existence of primitive “insanitary latrines”, meaning those without water, where the excreta must be physically removed.
  • Shoddy implementation: Although the Act is in place, its implementation is shoddy to say the least and plays a huge role in the perpetuation of the practice. The violations are all happening all over the country but no convictions have been recorded for the violation of the Act.
  • Living in denial: The government and other major private institutions deny the existence of scavenging despite the deaths reported especially in India. As a result, no measures are taken to solve this problem.
  • Social Stigma: People regard manual scavengers as untouchable because of their work. Therefore, the society is not ready to accept and include them in community activities. No employer offers them a job and also, landlords bar them from renting their houses.
  • Lack of empowerment: There are no proper strategies put forward to liberate manual scavengers psychologically. This pushes those in the practice to get even deeper and deeper into the practice of manual scavenging.

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