Despite the most stringent penal provisions in the law against manual scavenging, it continues in parts of India.
Recently Madras High Court ordered the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government to ensure the strict enforcement of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, in the wake of the death of 30 people engaged in the activity in the State.
Vigorous national campaign for the rehabilitation of those engaged to manually clean unsanitary latrines, and urban structures into which human excreta flows without sewerage, has been unable to break governmental indifference and social prejudice.
Why manual scavenging still persists?
- Because of the continued presence of insanitary latrines, of which there are about 2.6 million that require cleaning by hand.
- In spite of a legal obligation, State governments are not keen to demolish and rebuild old facilities lacking sanitation.
- The government hasn’t conducted a full census of both the latrines and the people engaged in clearing such waste.
- The Central government, which runs the self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of these workers, has reduced funds from ₹448 crore in the 2014-15 budget to Rs 5 crore this year.
- Even high allocation in the past also did not utilise effectively.Social prejudices that impede solutions
- Many communities still regard the inclusion of a sanitary toilet as ritual and physical pollution of the house.
- Even the less conservative are ready to accept only large, expensive and unscientific structures much bigger than those recommended by the WHO
- Entrenched belief in the caste system, that assumes Dalits will readily perform the stigmatised task of emptying latrines.
- Effective implementation of the law requires the willingness of the courts to fix responsibility on State governments, and order an accurate survey of the practice especially in those States that claim to have no insanitary latrines or manual scavenging.
- Raising the confidence level among those engaged in manual cleaning, even official data show their reluctance to take up self-employment.
- Empowerment holds the key to change.
- Break the caste barriers through education and economic uplift.
- Compensation for the families of those who died in the course of the humiliating and hazardous work should be paid immediately.