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The practice of manual scavenging in India

 GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of Vulnerable Sections


Source: TH


Context: According to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E), only 508 districts out of the total 766 in the country have declared themselves manual-scavenging free.


The practice of manual scavenging in India:

  • Meaning: Manual scavenging includes the disposal of human excreta manually from dry latrines, and public streets and the maintenance and sweeping of septic tanks, sewers and gutters.
  • Prevalence in India: As many as 58,000 people worked as manual scavengers as of 2018. 941 people have died since 1993 due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
    • The practice, which is considered the worst remaining evidence of untouchability, is most prevalent among people from lower castes/Dalits.


Attempts to abolish manual scavenging:



Salient features of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013:

  • It bans manual scavenging.
  • It widened the definition of manual scavengers by including it in all forms of manual removal of human excreta.
  • It lays a key focus on rehabilitating the manual scavengers by organising training programs (at a stipend of Rs. 3000) and offering scholarships to their children.
  • It makes the offence of manual scavenging cognizable and non-bailable.
  • It makes it obligatory for employers to provide protective tools to the workers.


Other efforts:

  • The scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers: Under this, ~58,000 identified sewer workers have been given a one-time cash payout of ₹40,000 each.
    • In addition, ~22,000 of them have been connected to skills training programmes.
  • NAMASTE scheme: For 100% mechanisation of sewer work. The scheme for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers has now been merged with the NAMASTE scheme.



  • Lack of funding: The Union Budget 2023-24 showed no allocation for the rehabilitation scheme and ₹100 crore allocation for the NAMASTE scheme.
  • Less than half of the identified sewer workers are connected to skills training programmes.
  • Despite all efforts, manual scavenging is still practised in India.


Way ahead:

  • All local bodies must identify and profile all septic tank/sewer workers in their respective areas.
  • Provide them with occupational training and safety equipment.
  • Sign them up for health insurance under the Ayushman Bharat scheme.


Best practice:

  • The Bandicoot Robot is the world’s first robotic scavenger, developed as a Make in India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative by the startup Genrobotics.
  • Kerala became the first state in the country to use robotic technology (Bandicoot) to clean all its commissioned manholes.


Insta Links:

Manual scavenging