Manual Scavengers

Last Updated: May 2023 (Manual Scavengers)

Manual Scavengers

This article deals with  Manual Scavengers . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is an important pillar of the GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


Manual Scavengers are mostly Scheduled Castes (Balmiki caste) involved in manually removing the human excrement from the dry toilets of higher-caste families. 

Issues with Manual Scavenging

  • In 1901, Mahatma Gandhi termed manual scavenging a national shame. 
  • They gave low life expectancy. Unhygienic work makes them vulnerable to various infections. A large number of them die while cleaning excreta. 
  • They have low wage payments and no financial security.
  • Lack of Human Dignity: The Manual Scavengers suffer due to a lack of dignity as people treat them badly due to their association with dirty work.  

Their numbers

  • The number of manual scavengers in India was 13,384 in 2018.
  • According to social activist Bezwada Wilson, 472 people have died in India due to manual scavenging between 2016 to 2020.

Initiatives already taken

1. Legal Measures

1.1 Manual Scavengers (Prohibition and rehabilitation) Act,2013 

  • A “manual scavenger” is defined as a person engaged in manually cleaning human excreta in an insanitary latrine or an open drain, or on a railway track. 
  • If anyone employs a manual scavenger or constructs an insanitary latrine, he can face imprisonment up to one year or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.  
  • Each occupier of an unsanitary latrine is responsible for demolishing it at his own cost. 
  • Responsibility to identify Manual Scavenger is with the Local Government.
  • Tasks the government to rehabilitate them in other jobs after training.

1.2 National Commission for Safai Karamchari

  • Giving recommendations to the Government regarding specific programmes for the welfare of Safai Karamcharis.
  • Monitor implementation of  Prohibition of Employment as  Manual  Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act,  2013.
  • Enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the  Act.

2. Judicial Support

In 2014, Supreme court

  • Manual scavenging has to be ended.
  • Directed the centre & states to rehabilitate the scavengers.  

3. Technology use

  • The government has installed bio-digesters at public places, especially in the railways.

4. Swachh Bharat

  • The scheme has a provision to construct the flush toilets and penalize the dry toilet pit construction.

5. Other Initiatives

  • Valmiki Malin Awas Yojana: To provide housing to the safai karamcharis.
  • National Scheme for Rehabilitation of Scavengers: To provide training & rehabilitate them.

Why we aren’t able to stop it till now

  • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Currently, Rs. 12,000 is given to build a latrine. But latrines of poor quality requiring regular cleaning is built with such a low budget.
  • The term is not defined properly as if protective gear is used; then government don’t count it as manual scavenging.
  • Western toilets are used in India. But they require more water which is scarce in villages. It compels people to go for a dry toilet.  

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