Breaking the chains of Inhumane practice: The persistence of Manual Scavenging in India

by Subhechcha Ganguly

Manual scavenging is a practice that involves the manual cleaning of human excreta from dry toilets and open drains. It is an inhumane and illegal practice that is prevalent in India, despite being banned by the Indian government. The practice is carried out by people belonging to lower castes who are considered to be the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. They are often forced to do this work due to the lack of other job opportunities and the discrimination they face in the society.

Recent cases of manual scavenging have brought this issue to the forefront once again. In January 2023, a video surfaced on social media that showed a woman cleaning a sewer line in Hyderabad, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Telangana. The woman, identified as Kavita, was cleaning the drain without any safety equipment and was knee-deep in the sewage. Kavita was employed by a private contractor who had been hired by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board to clean the drain. The video sparked outrage and the contractor was arrested by the police.

In another case, two workers died while cleaning a septic tank in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in December 2022. The workers were not provided with any safety equipment and were forced to enter the tank without any protective gear. They died due to suffocation caused by the toxic gases in the tank. The incident once again highlighted the dangers of manual scavenging and the need for its complete eradication.


There is a provision in Section 13(1) (c) of the Act for allocation of residential plots and financial assistance for construction of houses or a ready-built house to sanitary workers. As per the rule, there should be a State-level and district-level survey committees under the chairmanship of district Collectors with representatives of community including women, but the Odisha Government has not yet implemented it.

Though legally manual scavenging is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, it is still in practice  in many parts of India. According to a report by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, an agency set up by the Indian government to monitor the implementation of laws related to manual scavenging, there were 260 cases of manual scavenging in 2021 alone. The actual number of cases is likely to be much higher as many cases go unreported due to the fear of reprisals from the employers.

The practice of manual scavenging is not only illegal but also violates the basic human rights of the people who are forced to do this work. It is high time that the Indian government takes strict action against those who continue to engage in this inhumane practice and provides alternative job opportunities to the people who are engaged in manual scavenging. Only then can we hope to completely eradicate this practice from our society.

By Sakshi Singhania

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