A Written Submission to the 36th Regular Session of UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
INDIA: Manual scavenging, the curse of a nation
1. The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to draw attention of the Human Rights Council to the continuing illegal
and inhuman practice of manual scavenging that exist in India.
2. Reports indicate that in the year 2017 there were 39 deaths, of manual scavengers while at work due to the hazardous
condition at work. Seven of these deaths are from the national capital. The causes for death include inhalation of toxic
gases due to lack of safety equipment such as masks, gloves, protective clothing etc. Such inhuman working condition
also leads to deaths of workers over a period of time due to ailments and other infections these workers contact due to
3. The prevalence of manual scavenging is despite the current government’s flagship programme known as ‘Swacch Bharat
Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission) emphasizing on building toilets and sanitary conditions especially in rural India. The
scheme covers 4,041 towns and aims to clean the streets, roads, and infrastructure of the country.
4. The focus on building toilets however, has not significantly reduced the number of manual scavengers or provided for
their rehabilitation. The Supreme Court of India has outlawed the practice of manual scavenging since the past several
years. In its judgment, the Court had fixed the responsibility with the chief executive officer (or equivalent
authority) of civic bodies where the practice is found to continue, be it a panchayat or a municipal corporation. Ending
manual scavenging in these institutions by demolishing dry latrines, and stopping cleaners from entering sewers, is the
primary responsibility of the chief executive officer of the local body. By failing to prevent manual scavenging, all
these officers are currently violating the Supreme Court’s judgment, with impunity.
5. To avoid responsibility for the existence of scavengers in their respective states, the local bodies have roped in
contractors who employ manual scavengers. Through this, the state bodies have tried to evade their responsibility with
regards to complying with the prohibition. This allows the state to officially declare that they no longer employ manual
scavengers. The contractors provide low wages, guarantee no rights, and no safety gear is provided to the manual
scavengers they employ. As a result, those involved in scavenging stand the risk of deaths and injuries and are
simultaneously rendered invisible and non-existent by the state.
6. The current estimates of manual scavengers are severely underreported by various states. It is reported that India
still has 2.6 million dry toilets but the number of manual scavengers are under reported. For instance, as reported by
various news websites and organisations in India, in December 2015, the state of Telangana reported 157321 dry latrines
but zero manual scavengers. Himachal Pradesh declared 854 dry latrines in the state but zero manual scavengers, while
Chandigarh reported 4,391 dry latrines but only 3 manual scavengers. These figures indicate that the state is
consciously engaged in misinforming about the number of manual scavengers in their jurisdiction.
7. As per the government statistics in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census held in 2011, approximately 182505 houses
were dependent on manual scavenging for their income. This practice continues despite the passing of The Employment of
Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act in 1993 and a revised version of this act in 2013
which emphasized on rehabilitation of those relying on manual scavenging for their income.
8. The Socio-Economic and Caste Census highlighted the state of Maharashtra as the worst offender regarding manual
scavenging with other states such as Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Punjab as states where the practice is still
common. The 2013 Act on manual scavenging includes within its ambit the manual handling, disposing or otherwise handling
in any manner human excreta. This definition must be extended to include working in open sewers, septic sewers and
9. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Gujarat, Assam, and Manipur have engaged in such
denial, repeatedly, while numerous surveys of organizations like Garima Abhiyan and Safai Karmchari Andolan expose the
lies. Additionally, deaths have occurred in the process of sewers being cleaned, which is a practice outlawed by the
Supreme Court. These deaths, across the country, have made news from time to time prove that no Indian states can claim
to be manual scavenging free.
10. Manual scavenging continues in other ways, in the form of manual cleaning of sewers, manholes, and others parts of
urban sewage treatment systems, practices that the Supreme Court is supposed to have prohibited on 27 March 2014. The
Asian Human Rights Commission, sister organization to the ALRC, has consistently documented and reported cases of
sanitation workers dying while cleaning sewers. The media has also been reporting on similar cases. And, yet, the
authorities continue to deny prevalence of these banned practices.
11. It is significant to note that the basic safety requirements for those working on cleaning sewage and septic tanks
are routinely flouted. This results in long term diseases including skin infections and respiratory diseases, none of
which are officially documented or followed through. In fact, it is difficult to find any official statistics on the
health impacts caused due to scavenging. The lack of basic safety equipment and timely treatment in case of any disease
is a cause for serious concern.
12. Despite the 1993 prohibitiory Act and the 2013 Act, the rate of convictions of those who employ manual scavenging is
significantly low. Apart from the state, for whom scavengers do not exist, the public apathy towards manual scavenging
needs to be highlighted. Many houses continue to build septic tanks knowing that they can get them cleaned by manual
scavengers each month.
In light of this, the ALRC urges the Council to:
a) Ask the Government of India to begin a nationwide programme in order to bring all Indian citizens under sanitation
coverage, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. The Government of India needs to provide for rehabilitation of
existing scavengers to other professions. Such a measure would also address the stigma associated with scavenging and
the caste ramifications of scavenging as a profession.
b) Ask the Government of India to implement the law that prohibits manual scavenging. In addition, the Government of
India needs to commence a time bound demolition drive against dry latrines. There is a need to implement the Supreme
Court’s order on the same and ensure prosecution of chief executive officers of local bodies continuing the practice.
c) Ask the government to put an immediate end to the practice of people entering manholes or sewers in order to clean