Coming in with a nearly ₹100 crore allocation in this year’s Budget for the newly christened NAMASTE (National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem) scheme, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said that the Union government is looking to enable 100% mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers in all cities and towns.
Ms. Sitharaman, in her Union Budget 2023-23 speech, said this task was being undertaken “to transition from manhole to machine-hole mode”, adding, “Enhanced focus will be provided for scientific management of dry and wet waste.”
The NAMASTE scheme was launched last year, subsuming the already existing Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), with Ministry officials saying that since manual scavenging (humans collecting human waste by hand) was no longer practised in India, the next goal was to eliminate hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
Official government data showed that the Ministry had identified 58,098 beneficiaries for the rehabilitation scheme for manual scavengers, all of whom had been handed out the one-time payment of ₹40,000 each by 2020. However, as of last July, data showed that just about 18,800 had signed up for the skills training component of the scheme, and just 2,051 had been cleared for loans under the scheme’s subsidies to start alternative businesses.
As part of the NAMASTE scheme, the guidelines for which are close to being finalised, the Social Justice Ministry intends to first enumerate the number of people engaged in hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks across 500 AMRUT cities (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) and then proceed with its plans.
Being undertaken jointly by the Social Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the government is expected to spend ₹360 crore over the next four years on the scheme.
In this year’s Budget, the Social Justice Ministry has allocated ₹97.41 crore for the NAMASTE scheme, with no allocation for the SRMS programme.
The NAMASTE scheme, among other things, provides for capital subsidies to sewer cleaners on the purchase of sanitation machinery, training of workers with a stipend amount, and loan subsidies with capped interest rates on sanitation equipment.
But even as the NAMASTE allocation stands out in the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment’s allocation, the lion’s share of its ₹12,847.02 crore budget for this year has gone to the Post Matric and Pre Matric Scholarship schemes for Scheduled Castes (SC, ₹6,359.14 crore), in keeping with last year’s Budget estimates.
The total Budget for the Department of SJ&E this year is slightly higher than that of the ₹11, 659.94 crore allocation last year. Other big ticket spending by the Social Justice Ministry for the upcoming year includes ₹2,050 crore for the PM-AJAY scheme for the development of SC-dominated villages and districts; and ₹1,588 crore for the PM-YASASVI scheme, which covers Post Matric and Pre Matric Scholarships for Other Backward Classes (OBC), De-notified Tribes (DNT), Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) and their educational development.
In addition to this, the Social Justice Ministry has increased the allocation for the SEED scheme for economic empowerment of DNTs from last year’s ₹28 crore to ₹40.4 crore this year. Further, the Social Justice Ministry has allocated an amount of ₹1,225.15 crore to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.