Source: Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment

Scavenging has been an occupation imposed upon certain citizens of the country by the society, which later on continued as a traditional occupation where a section of people among Scheduled Castes was ordained to clean the  night soil and carry it  manually on their heads. This class of citizens of India is known as Manual Scavengers. Manual scavenging exists primarily because of absence of water borne latrines. Using a broom, a tin plate and a drum, they clear and carry human excreta from toilets, more often on their heads, to dumping grounds and disposal sites. They are exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections that affect their skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.Their children are also caught up in this quagmire. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible for their children to become educated. Mostly, the women of the families of the scavengers are engaged in scavenging. Even though, in modern times these people desire to leave the profession, their social, economic, educational and cultural aspects have made it difficult for them to find an alternate profession. The social stigma of untouchability continues to stick, in one form or the other largely because of the unclean nature of their occupation.

Government Initiatives

In the past(before 1980), the main efforts of the Government were concentrated on improving the working and living conditions of scavengers and not the core problem of converting dry latrines to pour flush latrines in any systemic manner.  In 1908-81, the Ministry of Home Affairs took up the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Liberation of Scavengers by way of conversion of existing dry latrines into low cost pour flush latrines and providing alternative employment to the unemployed scavengers as one of the measures for removal of Untouchability and providing financial assistance in selected  towns.      A Task Force constituted by the Planning Commission in July 1989 on the subject suggested for separate scheme for liberation and rehabilitation.  It also explored the bases for the enactment of certain legislation to ban construction and continuation of dry latrines and prohibit the practice of manual scavenging.  In 1992, the scheme of ‘Liberation of Scavengers’ was bifurcated.  For conversion of dry latrines into water borne flush latrines, an ‘Integrated Low Cost Sanitation (ILCS) Scheme, was started.  The National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents (NSLRS) was started for providing alternative employment to the liberated scavengers and their dependents.

Taking into consideration the seriousness of the problem and the requests of the State Governments, Parliament enacted the “Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines(Prohibition) Act, 1993”. The Act, inter alia, provides that no person shall:

(i) engage in or employ for or permit to be engaged in or employed for   any other person for manually carry human excreta; or

(ii) Construct or maintain a dry latrine.

Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), a successor scheme to NSLRS, was introduced in January, 2007,  as a scheme of national priority, with the objective to rehabilitate remaining manual scavengers and their dependents in alternative occupations, in a time bound manner. 18 States/UTs had reported existence of 1,18,474 manual scavengers/dependents to be covered. All these States/UTs confirmed disbursement of loan for alternative occupations to all the 78,941 eligible and willing beneficiaries by June, 2010.

 Nevertheless,  there were reports of existence of manual scavenging. The Houselisting and Housing Census, 2011 reported that there are about 26 lakh insanitary latrines in the country. Accordingly, the Parliament passed the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’ (MS Act, 2013) which came into effect from 6th December, 2013.    This Act intends to, inter alia, achieve its objectives to:-

  1. i)          Eliminate the insanitary latrines.
  2. ii)         Prohibit:-
  3. a)         Employment as Manual Scavengers
  4. b)         Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.

        iii)        Survey of Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation,

within a time bound manner.

Main features of the Act are:-

(i)     Definitions of manual scavengers and insanitary latrines widened to cover not only dry latrines but other insanitary latrines as well.

(ii)   Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable and attract stringent penalties.

(iii) Vigilance/Monitoring Committee at sub-Division, District, State and Central Govt. levels.

(iv) National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would, inter alia, monitor implementation of the Act  and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.

(v)   Provision of construction of adequate number of sanitary community latrines in urban areas, within three years from the date of commencement of this Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation.

            The SRMS has also been revised in November, 2013 with the following major modifications, in sync with the MS Act, 2013:-

(i)                 Definition of manual scavenger as per MS Act, 2013.

(ii)               Provision of one time cash assistance of Rs. 40,000/-,

(iii)             Enhancement of the maximum project cost from the existing Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh, and Rs. 15 lakh in case of sanitation related projects.

(iv)       Enhancement of capital subsidy from the existing maximum Rs. 20,000 to maximum of Rs. 3.25 lakh, based on the project cost.

(v)        Revision of the rate of monthly stipend during training from the existing Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 3,000 and the training period from 1 to 2 years.

So far, 12 States have identified about 12,000 manual scavengers. In view of the prevalence of large number of insanitary latrines, the number of manual scavengers identified in the country is too small. Even the identification of insanitary latrines is not in agreement with the data of Census, 2011.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is  responsible for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and it implements the ‘Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers’(SRMS). Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has associated reputed NGOs like Safai Karamchari Andolan, Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, Sulabh International etc. for identification of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation.

The Ministry has assigned the responsibility of rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers to the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation. Under  SRMS, so far, out of the identified  about 12,700 manual scavengers, One Time Cash Assistance of Rs. 40,000/- has been credited into the bank accounts of about 6,600 manual scavengers. However, despite having an attractive SRMS Scheme, the task of comprehensive rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers and their dependents is not picking up.

Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation under its Swachh Bharat Mission(Gramin) {SBM(G}provides for  an assistance of Rs, 12,000/- (Rs. 9,000/- as Central grant and Rs. 3,000/- State/UT contribution).  Although SBM(G) also targets identification of insanitary latrines and their conversion, the pace of implementation of the Scheme does not match with the targets of eradication of manual scavenging. Under SBM(G), so far 1.89 lakh insanitary latrines have been identified, of which 1.56 lakh are dry toilets and 1.13 lakh have been converted into sanitary latrines. About 0.55 lakh dry toilets are yet to be converted into sanitary toilets.

Ministry of Urban Development, under the Swachh Bharat Mission(Urban) provides a grant of Rs. 4000/-  for conversion of insanitary latrine. The provision of  the remaining fund for conversion will be made by the States/UTs.

Under Indira Awas Yojana of the Ministry of Rural Development, there is provision for providing assistance for construction of new houses and upgradation of kuchcha or dilapidated houses. Assistance of upto Rs.75,000/- it provided to the eligible households. A provision has been made under Indira Awas Yojana for special coverage of identified manual scavengers for providing them housing facilities in rural areas irrespective of their BPL status. The new Scheme of ‘Housing for All’ under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation aims at providing housing facility to the citizens of India.

Under the Scheme of “Pre Matric Scholarship to the Children of those engaged in Occupations involving cleaning and prone to health hazards”, being implemented by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the children of manual scavengers are also provided scholarship @ Rs. 110 to Rs. 700 per month.

The Problems faced in Elimination of Manual Scavenging

The States/UT’s are slow in identification of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers as there is no time-bound plan for identification of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers. Further, in a case filed in the Supreme Court of India, many States/UTs gave affidavit that there are no insanitary latrines in their jurisdiction.  Due to fear of contempt of the Court, they hesitate in reporting existence of insanitary latrines in their States/UTs.

At present the work of conversion of insanitary latrines into sanitary latrines is being attended to as a part of broad programme of construction of toilets.  There is a need to have a time-bound approach as per the mandate of the MS Act, 2013, for conversion of insanitary latrines.

Rehabilitation of manual scavengers is also slow and in many cases not adequate due to various problems being faced, which include:-

(i)  Manual scavengers are mostly illiterate and have no exposure to any work, other than sanitation related work.  Many of them are old. They lack confidence for running self employment projects. Many of them are not willing even to avail any skill development training.

(ii)   Banks are hesitant about providing loan to manual scavengers. Even many State Channelising Agencies, due to low rate of recovery of loan from safai karamcharis, are not willing to extend loan to manual scavengers.

Due to low confidence levels the identified manual scavengers demand that they may be provided jobs of safai karamchari in local authorities.


National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation, an apex Corporation for the socio-economic development of safai karamcharis and manual scavengers and their dependents is the nodal agency of Government of India for rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers and their dependents.  The Corporation has adopted camp approach for mobilization of the target group and readying them to avail the benefits of government Schemes for their rehabilitation in alternate dignified occupations.  So far, such camps have been held at Bareli, Moradabad, Meerut, Lucknow, Roorkee, Asansol, Bengaluru and Ratlam, and many more will be organized at other places.   In these camps, apart from the manual scavengers and their dependents, various concerned departments of the State, training providers, representatives of banks and NGOs are invited.  All the stakeholders are made aware of the benefits to be provided to the target group and motivated to provide all possible cooperation and assistance for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their dependents.

With the camp approach, it is hoped that the goal of meaningful and sustainable rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers would be achieved.