- Uttar Pradesh has over 28,000 manual scavengers: Survey
- The survey has covered 12 states and 121 districts so far
- Stronger legislation required to end manual scavenging, says Beswada Wilson
New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh got the dubious distinction of being home to more than half of the country’s manual scavengers, as per a new report published by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The Ministry, which began a survey in 2017 to identify the number of manual scavengers in India, released the findings on June 27. While the survey is yet to be completed, as till now 12 states have submitted complete data on the number of manual scavengers, while 6 more states are yet to submit the information. The survey was supposed to be completed by April 30, but missed its deadline. Uttar Pradesh registered 28,796 manual scavengers of the total 53,236 manual scavengers across the country, as identified by the survey.
The large number of manual scavengers still present in India is alarming, as manual scavenging was made illegal in 1993. The presence of so many manual scavengers throughout the country indicates that despite being an illegal activity, septic tanks, sewers and drains are still cleaned manually and often those deployed for this demeaning job are paid nominal wages and not provided any protective gear. Earlier during the 2011 census, Maharashtra was the state with the largest number of manual scavengers at over 63,000. As per the recent survey, Madhya Pradesh registered 8.016 manual scavengers, Rajasthan registered 6,643 manual scavengers and Gujarat registered only 146 manual scavengers. The Ministry mentioned that the findings were based on data received from, only 121 out of 600 districts, so the number of manual scavengers in the country is expected to be higher.
Despite being an illegal activity, over 50,000 people are employed in manual scavenging. The numbers are big, despite the survey not being completed yet. The numbers are alarming and the government must do something drastic to address the growing number of manual scavengers in India. With the large number of toilets built in the last four years, we fear that manual scavenging will only rise, said Magsaysay Award winning activist Beswada Wilson, founder and convener, Safai Karmachari Andolan.
Mr Wilson says that the identification and rehabilitation of manual scavengers has been woefully slow across the country. Dr Thawarchand Gehlot, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, in April 2017 said that out of the then identified 12,742 manual scavengers, 11,598 were rehabilitated. But given the staggering number of manual scavengers, as per the new survey, the government needs to make some efforts to rehabilitate manual scavengers, and put a gradual end to this practice.
“The data from the other states is expected to arrive soon, and we will get the real picture once the survey is completed. More than 11,000 manual scavengers have received a one-time assistance of Rs 40,000 towards their rehabilitation. Further, under the Indira Awas Yojana, we have made provisions to provide housing facilities to manual scavengers in rural areas. Even members of non-below poverty level families, engaged in manual scavenging, can avail this facility,” said Surendra Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Environment.
Anil Kumar Sagar, Secretary, Backward Welfare Department in Uttar Pradesh said that the government was trying to identify all the manual scavengers in the state. Post identification, it will begin a rehabilitation process and will try and rehabilitate at least half of the identified manual scavengers by the end of 2018. The Department has also issued circulars, asking public offices not to employ manual scavengers for any purpose.
Such measures however, have failed to solve the problem of manual scavenging, says Beswada Wilson. New legislation which increases penalties and fines on those who employ manual scavengers is needed to address the issue on an emergency basis, feels the award winning activist. Mr Wilson also said that the ongoing survey would be a good time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak extensively about manual scavenging and promise to take steps to put an end to the practice. If people heeded to him and became conscious about safe sanitation, they may listen to him and stop employing manual scavengers, felt Mr Wilson.