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With an aim of eliminating human entry into septic tanks and drains for cleaning, the ministry of housing and urban affairs launched a ‘technology challenge’ seeking suitable solutions from individuals and NGOs. According to the ministry, the initiative is in line with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently expressed a desire for a challenge to promote latest technologies to avoid human intervention in cleaning of sewers and septic tanks in the country. Housing and Urban Affairs asked ministry officials to work out modalities of the challenge. The ministry said that identification of technological as well as business innovations are among the objectives that have been flagged.

Manual Scavenging and related data:

  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. Despite banning it 28 years ago through a law, technological advancements increasing sensitivity to human rights, manual scavenging persists in India.
  • Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) released in 2015, states that there were around 18 million manual scavenging households in rural areas.
  • A government survey identifies 12,226 manual scavengers in 12 states. Most septic tanks are emptied manually in Indian cities.
  • Statistics show that 80% of India’s sewage cleaners die before they turn 60, after contracting various infectious diseases.
  • There are 8000 urban areas and 6 lakhs villages and accidents are more in urban and large parts donot have sewage plants.


  • Manual scavenging persists mainly because of the continued presence of insanitary latrines.
  • It is strongly connected to the caste system.
  • Lack of support by society to eliminate this most inhuman profession.
  • Lack of education and humanity which is missing in many parts of India.
  • Data show the manual scavengers reluctance to take up self-employment.
  • Community mindset – Many communities still regard the inclusion of a sanitary toilet as ritual.

Government Initiatives:

  • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed by the parliament in 1993, and set imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of Rs 2,000 for pushing a person to manual scavenging.
  • Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers(SRMS), a successor scheme to NSLRS ( National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents), was introduced in 2007 with the objective to rehabilitate remaining manual scavengers and their dependents in alternative occupations, in a time bound manner.
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 came into effect from 6thDecember, 2013. This Act intends to achieve its objectives of eliminating insanitary latrines, prohibition of employment as manual scavengers etc.
  • The act says National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
  • Under the provision, no person, local authority or agency should engage or employ people for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks
  • Mechanised cleaning of septic tanks is the prescribed norm.
  • A violation can be punished with two years of imprisonment or fine or both.
  • Supreme Court issued a slew of directions in 2014 to prevent and control the practice and also to prosecute the offenders.
  • It also directed the government to pay a compensation of 10 lakh rupees to the family members of those killed in acts of manual scavenging since 1993.
  • Also, the right to live with dignity is implicit in the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution. Article 46 of the Constitution, on the other hand, provides that the State shall protect the weaker sections particularly, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • In spite of a well-funded programme such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in operation, little attention is devoted to this aspect of sanitation.


  • None of the missions till now doesn’t get away with man entering manhole
  • The stigma and discrimination makes it difficult for former or liberated manual scavengers to secure alternate livelihoods
  • People could once again return to manual scavenging in the absence of other opportunities to support their families.
  • Lack of budget support for rehabilitation and High allocation in the past has not meant effective utilisation.
  • It is difficult to bring those responsible for the situation to book.
  • Design: Septic tanks are designed badly. They have engineering defects which means that after a point, a machine cannot clean it.
  • Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, millions of septic tanks are being built in rural India.
  • Sewage issues: Many cities do not have sewerage that covers the whole city. Sometimes, sewage lines are connected to storm water drains which get clogged and demand human intervention.
  • Open drains: Open drains are also badly designed, allowing people to dump solid waste into them, which accentuates the problem. Improper disposal of sanitary napkins, diapers etc clog the drains, which machines cannot clear.


  • This is a national emergency and we need to strike at the root cause — caste prejudice as Raja Ram Mohan Roy said that change should come from society itself.
  • Smart cities should be planned taking into consideration manual scavenging.
  • Ensure discrimination-free, secure and alternate livelihoods by providing skill development and livelihoods training to women.
  • Create a favourable environment through community awareness and sensitization of local administration.
  • Build the capacity of the community to promote rehabilitation efforts and self-reliance and also build leadership in the community with a particular focus on Dalit women.
  • Requires a comprehensive approach that moves beyond expanding income generation or providing loans, to secure the future of the next generation of liberated manual scavengers.
  • Need to demolish and rebuild old facilities lacking sanitation.
  • Raising the confidence level among those engaged in manual cleaning is vital.
  • Need for political will to eradicate this inhuman practice.
  • Improving educational status among the children of the scavenging community