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RTI Reveals Threefold Rise in Number of Manual Scavengers Despite Ban

The government, as part of an ongoing survey to identify them, has left out almost half the people who said they were engaged in manual cleaning work.

In India, there are more than 40,000 people working as manual scavengers in 84 districts of 14 states. This information was revealed after a survey begun by the Central government in 2018 for their identification. 

This number is three times that of the number obtained in a survey conducted in 2013. At that time, the survey had been conducted in 13 states, and 14,505 manual scavengers had been identified. 

An RTI filed by The Wire revealed details on the new survey, like the fact that there are a total of 41,420 manual scavengers in the 84 districts surveyed. Combining the results of the 2013 and 2018 surveys, government records say there are 55,625 manual scavengers in 14 states of the country. More than 70% of them are women.

The National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC), which works under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, had conducted a survey in 170 districts of 18 states. In those districts, a total of 86,528 people described their work as “manual cleaning of waste.” 

‘No manual scavengers’ in 4 states

But the government has oddly only identified 41,120 of them as manual scavengers, leaving out half of those who registered their occupation as something exactly the same as manual scavenging. 

The respective state governments have claimed that there are no manual scavengers in Bihar, Haryana, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir.

Also read: After 25 Years of Broken Promises, India is Counting its Manual Scavengers. Again.

According to NSKFDC data, 4,757 people in 16 districts of Bihar identified themselves as manual scavengers, but the state government has refused to categorise any of them into the bracket. 

Similarly 1,221 people in five districts of Haryana identified their occupation as manual scavenging, but the state government of Haryana has refused to identify them as manual scavengers. 

According to the available data, authorities of 82 of the 170 districts that were surveyed claim that there are no manual scavengers there. Data from four districts is still pending. 

Setting aside the four states that claim to have no manual scavengers, in this survey are included two districts from Andhra Pradesh, one from Gujarat and Jharkhand, seven from Madhya Pradesh, two from Punjab, 12 from Rajasthan, three from Tamil Nadu, 21 from Uttar Pradesh, one from Uttarakhand and two from West Bengal. 

R.K. Gupta, deputy manager and survey in-charge, said that the survey is ongoing and the total number of manual scavengers is likely to go up in the future.

He said, “We have created a website – mssurvey.nic.in – on which district administrations or municipal corporations of any state can upload data related to manual scavenging.”

Gupta added that all identified manual scavengers will be offered Rs 40,000 as part of the rehabilitation scheme. 

Also read | No Dignity, No Rights, But Filth Forever: Manual Scavengers in Photographs

The government has commenced these surveys to identify and rehabilitate manual scavengers. But activists allege that the government is not conducting the surveys properly and has consistently been refusing to recognise the scale of the problem. As a result of this, they believe, the practice may never end. 

How many and where 

According to the 2018 survey, the maximum number of manual scavengers − 18,529 – is in Uttar Pradesh. Forty seven districts in the state were surveyed, but the state government has only provided data from 43 districts (data from the other four is still pending). 

Maharashtra is in second place with 7,378 manual scavengers. Fourteen districts in the state were surveyed. It is, significantly, the only state in which all the people who had registered as manual scavengers have been accepted as manual scavengers.

Serious discrepancies exist between the number of people who have registered themselves as manual scavengers and the number of them officially identified as such. Photo: Arpita Singh and Mayank Chawla

In three districts of Uttarakhand, meanwhile, 6,033 people were identified as manual scavengers. 

Fourth on the list is Rajasthan. The survey was conducted in only 20 districts of the state. As many as 7,381 people registered themselves as manual scavengers, but only 35% of them, i.e. 2,590 people, were identified by the state. Of the 20 districts surveyed, 12 claimed that there were no manual scavengers working there. 

Also read: 50 People Died Cleaning Sewers in the First Six Months of 2019

In the five districts surveyed in Andhra Pradesh, 2,024 people registered, but only 1,982 were identified as manual scavengers. In six districts of Karnataka, 1,754 people, of the 1,803 who registered, were identified as manual scavengers. 

The data from Madhya Pradesh is the most astonishing. In 14 districts in the state, 8,572 registered themselves as being manual scavengers, but the state government only identified 6.5% of them, i.e. 562 people, as manual scavengers. 

Ashif Sheikh, member of the National Campaign for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging (also known as the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan), an NGO that partnered with the NSKFDC in conducting the survey, said, “The number of manual scavengers identified in this survey is not correct. The actual population of manual scavengers is far greater. State governments deliberately try to suppress these numbers instead of actually working towards the eradication of manual scavenging. They are more worried about their reputation than anything else.” 

District-wise data

The district-wise data reveals that Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh has the highest number, 3,225, of manual scavengers. Second is Uttar Pradesh’s Jaypee Nagar (Amroha) with 2,965 manual scavengers. Third is Uttarakhand’s Haridwar with 2,531. There are 2,256 manual scavengers in Dehradun. 

Whoever hires manual scavengers is likely to face punishment in India, but such an instance is yet to be seen. Photo: Dalberg Advisors

There are 2,135 manual scavengers in the Moradabad district of the Uttar Pradesh, 1,489 in Sambhal, 1,330 in Hardoi, 1,195 in Kasganj, and 1,165 people in Badaun. 

There are 2,799 manual scavengers in Nashik, Maharashtra, 1,107 in Aurangabad, 1,226 in Mysore, Karnataka, 1,454 in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, and 1,246 manual scavengers in the Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand.

The first attempt to ban the practice of manual scavenging had been in 1993. After that, a law was passed in 2013 completely banning the practice and occupation. But it persists nonetheless. 

According to the law, whoever hires or uses manual scavengers will face punishment, but the government itself admits that it does not know of anyone who has faced punishment for employing manual scavengers. 

Also read: Rehabilitating Manual Scavengers Must Go Beyond Reinforcing Caste Hierarchies

Rehabilitation for manual scavengers is done under the Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. 

Under the scheme, there are primarily three ways in which manual scavengers can be rehabilitated. Under the one-time cash assistance scheme, a member of a manual scavenger’s family is given Rs 40,000 as a lump sum amount, with which the government believes the manual scavenger and his or her family will be rehabilitated. 

Apart from this, manual scavengers can be provided with skill training. In this, they are given Rs 3,000 per month in addition to two years of skill training. There is also a provision for providing subsidised loans (up to a certain amount) to manual scavengers. 

According to NSKFDC, of the manual scavengers identified, only 8,330 have received the Rs 40,000 as of October 25, 2018. The organisation has not, as of yet, uploaded the full data or other information pertaining to the survey on its website. 

 Translated from the Hindi original by Karan Dhingra.