A new study*, based on a survey of 250 areas and 5,827 households across five states of India, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, has found that, despite the legislations seeking to eradicate manual scavenging (the Construction of Dry Latrines and Employment of Manual Scavengers (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the recently-enacted Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013), the system of manual scavenging still exists in India and with increasing urbanization across the country. Worse, it has the potential to spread far and wide. A counterview.org report based on the survey carried out by Ahmedabad civil rights group Janvikas with the help of a dozen community based organizations (CBOs):
Inadequate infrastructure, casteist mindset of government officials and society at large, poor implementation of legislations banning manual scavenging, internalization of caste hierarchy and complete acceptance of caste based occupations in the minds of scavenging community as well as lack of political are enough to create obstacles for the complete eradication of manual scavenging in India. The survey identified 3,799 manual scavengers across 250 areas (villages and slums). Manav Garima’s work in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) area alone reveals that there are more than 200 sites in Ahmedabad city itself where open defecation exists and so does manual scavenging. The survey by Manav Garima in nine slum areas of AMC area showed 90 persons from the scavenging community practiced manual scavenging.
Poor job opportunity in occupations other than scavenging job was a striking finding of the survey. Of the 10,944 working individuals across houses surveyed, 5,610 (51%) are engaged in sweeping, underground drainage cleaning and manual scavenging work. Only 410 persons from 5,827 households are occupied in occupations other than scavenging. Majority of the community is still dependent on credit from the private moneylenders or family members or self-help groups (SHGs) which are formed from their community/ neighborhood). They are denied credit from mainstream financial institutions in spite of government claim of financial inclusion. Only 54% of respondents have bank accounts.
The scavenging community at most places resides in segregated, caste-based inhabitation, away from other areas and/ or not in slums/ localities where other castes reside. Their areas are neglected in terms of basic amenities, infrastructure and services such as water, garbage lifting, healthcare, etc. Average life expectancy is low – 50 years). There is wide prevalence of chronic ailments, and annually approximately 600 underground drainage and septic tank cleaners die prematurely.
In urban areas across the five states, the practice of open defecation is commonly seen near railway and bus stations, market areas, most of the slum areas and many pavements. In rural areas, the system of private dry latrines is rampant in Uttar Pradesh, where women from the scavenging community have been employed for generations to clean toilets with bare hands. In South India, more than private dry latrines, gram panchayats employ sweepers to clean human excreta at common public places. In both urban and rural India, be it private or public toilet cleaning, manual scavenging is practiced, which is a clear violation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
The survey has considered underground drainage (manhole) workers and septic tank or soak-pit cleaners as manual scavengers since they clean these manually, without any safety gear. In urban areas, particularly in municipal corporations, underground drainage cleaning is done manually. While the high courts of Gujarat and Karnataka have in their interim orders/ directives prohibited entry of persons in manhole unless absolutely necessary, and not without safety equipments in any case, its implementation remains a big question. Municipalities and municipal corporations in both these states have purchased jetting and suction machines to clean underground drainages, yet underground drainage workers employed with municipal bodies enter manholes without safety equipment.
In semi-urban and rural areas, sweepers are employed on casual basis to clean soak pits/ septic tanks of households, government offices, schools, hospitals, temples/mosques/ religious places, and other premises. They also enter septic tank without any protective gear. It is estimated that every year around 600 underground drainage workers and septic tank cleaners die while at work. At 911 places (in the areas surveyed) manual scavenging is carried out. This includes private toilets in rural areas. In Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, open defecation is mostly practiced in urban slums.
Out of 3,799 persons engaged in manual scavenging, 60% (2,294) are women. This is more visible in rural areas. Only 11% doing manual scavenging have permanent employment with government or private organizations. About 43% are contract workers, while majority, 46% (1,745 or 3,799), are casual workers without any kind of job security or social security. Whatever is the nature of employment of manual scavengers, sheer work of manual scavenging is breach of law of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. Here, both government agencies – panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations – as well as private organizations are at equal fault of continuing the practice.
Status of physical infrastructure in 250 areas
No doubt, 92% of areas resided by the scavenging community have road connectivity. The trend is seen across all the states where the survey was conducted. This may be attributed to state governments’ emphasis on infrastructure development, increasing urbanization and enhancement in budget allocation for road construction. Further, 188 areas out of 250 areas have street light. This is related to the variable of road connectivity to slum areas and remote rural areas. Also, 92% areas (231 out of 250) have electricity connections.
While road connectivity, streetlights and electricity supply show a bright picture, availability of water supply (drinking and household usage) shows the bleak side. Only 59% of the areas (147/250) have supply of drinking water. Members of the scavenging community either depend on community sources like ponds and hand pumps, or government-run water tankers, or fetch water from faraway places. The scavenging community, which is compelled to clean open drainages and underground sewerage system, do not have drainage facility in their own localities. In urban areas as well as in rural areas, 52.5% and 52% areas respectively have drainage facilities. Only 14% areas (36 out of 250 areas surveyed) have garbage pickup facility. These include 35 urban slums and a village.
Further, 185 out of 250 areas surveyed (74%) have anganwadis under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) for pre-school children. Only 103 areas out of 250 areas surveyed (41%) have healthcare facilities such as primary health centre, urban health centre in the neighborhood, or auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) workers visiting their localities, and in some cases availability of private healthcare practitioners. Scavengers in 144 villages (out of total 250 areas surveyed) have not benefitted from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
Only 70/250, i.e. 28% areas have public toilets. In rest of the areas community members have to either rely on open defecation or very few have individual/ personal toilets in their households. Further, out of 5,827 households surveyed, only 1,851 (32%) have individual household toilets, while 3,976 households of scavengers do not have individual toilet facility. As many as 68% areas are still dependent on public toilets or open defecation (in rural and urban areas). Only 28% areas (70/250), where the scavenging community lives, have facility of public toilets. Of the 70 areas that have public toilet facility, only 107 public toilets (seats) have water supply, while 995 toilets are dry toilets, which require manual scavenging of human excreta. These dry latrines are just walls on three, without any doors.
Survey of 5827 households, 25,082 persons
Of the 5,827 households /families surveyed (of those who are engaged in scavenging work) , 149 belong to other backward classes (OBCs) and minority (Muslim) families, 389 are scheduled tribe (ST) families, an overwhelming majority, 5,289 families, belong to the scheduled castes (SCs). This clearly shows that sweeping, manhole cleaning and manual scavenging are largely caste-based occupations.
The educational status of the persons surveyed indicates that 6,774 respondents are pursuing studies, 2,059 are school dropouts, while 8,230 have either completed studies up to 12th or college, or they do not want to pursue studies further through formal or informal education system. As many as 2,967 persons have never been to school, while 5,052 persons did not answer about their educational status.
Of the adult members of the households surveyed, 3,903 persons are working as sweepers. 609 are working as manhole workers, while 1,098 are working as manual scavengers. Only three respondents are earning through an animal husbandry occupation, while 15 worked under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) at the time of the survey, which was carried out in 2011-12. A large number of respondents (2,748) are daily wage earners, either occupied as agriculture labourers, work as coolies or do petty jobs. As many as 511 persons are employed in private jobs in sales, housekeeping, labour or clerical work in shops, hospitals, factories and companies, etc. Another 1,504 persons are not regularly employed, meaning, they work on ad-hoc basis.
As many as 49% households surveyed (2877/5827) have monthly family income of less than Rs 3,000; 1,340 households have monthly income between Rs 3,001 and Rs. 5,000; 28% (1610/5827) households have monthly income exceeding Rs 5,000. As many as 106 households are listed as antyodaya (poorest of the poor) households and are getting government benefit for food security. Further, 64% (3739/5827) households live the below poverty line (BPL) and 32% (1849/5827) households are above the poverty line (APL), who do not get any food security benefits from the government. Only 2% households do not have any card which ensures food security to them.
As many as 62% respondent households live in pukka houses, while a sizeable number of respondents, 38% (2211/5827), live in kutcha (thatched/ mud) houses. Further, 66% households are owned by respondents themselves, while 19% live in rented houses, and 871 families (15% of the sample) do not have any legal status of houses they live in. They are under the constant fear of being evicted by municipal bodies. In rural areas, they have to struggle to get housing site entitlements in their name. The situation is such despite the fact that 46% of respondent households have been living in their respective houses for up to 10 years, another 42% have been living for the last 11-20 years, and 679 families (12%) have been living in that the same house/locality for more than 20 years.
Only 558 respondent households (9.5% of total respondents) have accessed government housing schemes to construct their houses, under the Rajiv Gruha Kalpa in Andhra Pradesh, TAHDCO in Tamilnadu, Urban Ashraya Yojana in Karnataka, Mahamaya Yojana in Uttar Pradesh, apart from Central schemes like Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana, JNNURM Housing Scheme, and Ambedkar Awas Yojana.
Of the 5,827 households surveyed, the adults of 5,090 households (87%) have voter identity cards in their names, 37% households (2,129/5,827) have Aadhaar (Unique Identity or UID) cards in their names, which gives proof of identity and residence to the citizens of India, and 54% respondent households have bank accounts. Bank accounts are a requirement for NREGS wages, benefits of government schemes and subsidies, etc. Only 26% households (1,519/5,827) have ESIC or health insurance coverage. Almost three-quarters of the respondents do not have such security, which results in either negligence of symptoms leading to critical ailments. There is high prevalence of superstition and quacks in the community, and many prefer not to approach a medical practitioner until it is absolutely necessary.
*They study, “Status of Scavenging Community in India”, was carried out by 12 CBOs: Men’s Institute of Development and Training (MIDT), Hapur, Uttar Pradesh; Apna Theatre, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh; Sahyogi Rural Development and Research Institute, Makdrandpur, Uttar Pradesh; Purvanchal Rural Development and Training Institute (PRDTI) and Dalit Shakti Kendra, Mubarakpur, Uttar Pradesh; Manav Garima Trust, Ahmedabad, Gujarat; Dalit Women’s Forum, Greater Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh; Sanghamithra Service Society, Chandragiri Mandal, Andhra Pradesh; Thamate Centre for Rural Empowerment, Tumkur, Karnataka; Cultural Action and Rural Development Society, Manamadurai, TamilNadu; Rights Education and Development Centre (READ), Sathyamangalam, TamilNadu; Vizhuthugal Social Education & Development Trust, Avinashi, Tamil Nadu; Dr Ambedkar Women & Child Regeneration Development (Dr AWARD); and Merku Theru, Annavasal Post, district Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu.