India’s invisible manual scavengers

Data given by States show mismatch between number of dry latrines and workers who clean them

Updated - October 18, 2016 02:47 pm IST

Published - July 23, 2016 10:52 pm IST - New Delhi:

Manual scavengers at work in Saadatganj, Lucknow. — File photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Manual scavengers at work in Saadatganj, Lucknow. — File photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Is it possible that hundreds of thousands of dry latrines across India have been cleaning themselves? That was the embarrassing question senior State government officials had to face at a review meeting held on July 21 by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).

The meeting, attended by the Secretary and DG-level officials of all the States and the Union Territories, required the States to share the latest data on the total number of dry latrines and manual scavengers in their jurisdictions. But the data they submitted to the NCSC, which was accessed by The Hindu , had wild mismatches between the number of dry latrines and the number of manual scavengers.

Telangana, for instance, reported 1,57,321 dry latrines as of December 31, 2015, but zero manual scavengers. The survey results submitted by Himachal Pradesh, too, showed 854 dry latrines but “nil” manual scavengers. Chhattisgarh reported 4,391 dry latrines but only three workers. “A manual scavenger can at the most clean 30 or 40 latrines. How can three of them clean 4,391 latrines,” asked an official at the meeting.

Similarly, Karnataka reported 24,468 dry latrines but only 302 manual scavengers, and Madhya Pradesh’s numbers were 39,362 and 36.

Bihar reported only 11 manual scavengers, while Haryana reported “nil” for both dry latrines and manual scavengers.

The mismatch between the numbers of dry latrines and those of manual scavengers is considered a serious anomaly as it points to the failure of the State governments to identify the manual scavengers who doubtless exist, as attested by the existence of dry latrines, as well as by the census data.

Although manual scavenging is prohibited in the country, as per the latest Socio-Economic Caste Census data released in 2015, India still has 1,80,657 households that make a living from manual scavenging. The States, therefore, get funding from the Centre for rehabilita-tion of manual scavengers.

First step to rehabilitation

Identification of manual scavengers is the first step towards rehabilitating them. The NCSC observed in a note circulated for the meeting that “expenditure for the last three years is negligible” under the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS). The budgeted amount for SRMS for 2015-16 was Rs. 470.19 crore. The actual expenditure was “nil.”

Interestingly, Rajasthan, Punjab, and West Bengal have reported an increase in the number of manual scavengers over the previous year.

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