October 28, 2023
A statue of Lady Justice

Some may find it odd that abhorrent professions like manual scavenging continue to exist in modern-day India, given the country’s incredible growth rate and accompanying investment and employment prospects.

Manual Scavenging: About

The cruel practice of manually clearing human waste from “dry latrines,” or restrooms without the convenience of a flush mechanism, is known as “manual scavenging.”

During the period of urbanization that followed British control, manual scavenging became a common activity. Although protection against such behavior is granted by the ultimate document of our land, i.e., the Constitution of India, it is the worst type of violation of human rights.

Manual Scavenging: Work of the Scavengers

  • Scavengers come into direct touch with human waste, leaving their hands filthy.
  • The scavenger must crawl through a small entrance in a crowded area, pushing the basket with one hand while supporting his weight with the other to climb up to the toilet chamber.
  • For cleaning the toilet in the latrine, one must reach as far as possible with their hand and bury their head in the opening.
  • When cleaning the toilet antechambers, the scavenger must bend forward into the little space.
  • To get the most cleaning performed the scavenger also scrapes the sidewalls and the floor.

Legislations Pertaining to Manual Scavenging in India

Untouchability Offences Act (1955)

  • The first legislation, Section 4 of The Untouchability Offenses Act of 1955, attempted to outlaw this dehumanizing behavior. Nevertheless, the Act’s penalties were incredibly light, and the act of manual scavenging continued unabated.

Protection of Civil Rights Act (1977)

  • Modifying the Untouchability Offences Act, the Parliament created the Protection of Civil Rights Act, which rendered “scavenging” on the grounds of untouchability illegal under Section 7A of the Act. This Act, too, failed to impose severe penalties that would have lessened the practice.

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act (1993)

  • With the passage of this particular Act, the Parliament took additional measures to reduce manual scavenging. According to the Act, penalties might include up to a year in imprisonment, a fine, or both. Additionally, it turned out that this Act was ineffective for two main reasons. It did not make cleaning septic tanks, manholes, etc. illegal and it did not give the power to a person who was displeased with them to file a complaint; instead, it delegated this responsibility to particular agencies.

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (2013)

  • It seeks to outlaw and do away with manual scavenging in India. It also forbids anyone from building or maintaining unhygienic latrines, as well as from hiring or engaging someone as a manual scavenger.

Manual Scavenging: Prevalence till Date

  • Because most Indian municipalities lack the newest equipment for maintaining their sewage systems, sewage technicians must enter the subterranean sewerage pipelines through manholes.
  • In India, the practice of manual scavenging as covered by the institute of RJS Coaching in Jaipur has long been linked to the caste system, as some castes have been ostracized and compelled to work in jobs deemed “unclean” or “polluting.”
  • The maintenance of manual scavenging as a source of income for these marginalized people is facilitated by the persistence of discrimination based on caste and social stigma.
  • A lot of manual scavengers are stuck in a vicious circle of poverty and marginalization because they can’t access programs for skill development and education that could open up other employment opportunities for them. Because they have no other options financially, they are forced to keep doing manual scavenging in order to survive.

Manual Scavenging: Recent Update

  • In the Balram Singh v Union of India case, the Supreme Court directed the federal government and the states to take the required steps, establish regulations, and issue directives to ensure that manual sewage cleaning is phased out completely. This was done in light of the fact that a sizable portion of India’s population engages in manual scavenging without anyone noticing.
  • According to the experts at RJS Coaching in Jaipur, the Supreme Court has asked the center to offer guidelines so that those cleaning sewage won’t have to enter sewers. In addition, the court ordered that the compensation for families of people who die while cleaning sewers be increased to Rs 30 lakh from the previous amount of Rs 10 lakh.


Many areas of India still practice manual scavenging because they lack adequate sewage infrastructure. Indian Railways has historically been the largest offender of this legislation, with its bathrooms spilling all train waste over the tracks and using scavengers to hand clean it. The manual scavengers are compelled, not given the option, to labor in such cruel ways. The experts from RJS Coaching in Jaipur say that the ugly truth is that while not all Dalits work in sanitation, all Dalits are employed in that profession.

The practice of manual scavenging is inherited by future generations. Their prevailing culture of acceptance also deprives people of their fundamental rights. The laws against manual scavenging have not been enforced by the federal or state governments.

Even while it takes time, it is not impossible. With the help of the government and the populace working together, this gravely inhumane issue may be resolved, and manual scavenging shall be abolished in favor of superior alternatives.

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