In a written reply to a question asked in the Rajya Sabha, the Centre has said that no deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging in the past five years.
The reply was given by Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, to the questions asked by Mallikarjun Kharge and Dr L Hanumanthaiah, regarding the available data on manual scavenging, the deaths due to it, and the rehabilitation processes.
The Ministry, however, acknowledged the presence of over 66,692 officially registered manual scavengers across various states, the highest being in Uttar Pradesh.
'Nobody Died Then?': Twitterati Irked at Govt's Response
Several took to Twitter to call out the "insensitivity" of the reply, alleging that ignorance in the garb of "no data" is the new norm for the government.
Technicalities of Being Identified as a 'Manual Scavenger'
The government in February this year had told the Lok Sabha that there were 340 recorded deaths due to "sewer cleaning".
Asked about the specific number of deaths due "sewer cleaning/entering sewers across the country" Athawale's ministry had told Lok Sabha MP Sudhakar Tukaram Shrangare that 340 deaths had taken place across 19 states, with the highest (43) being in Tamil Nadu.
As per the government's definition, however, cleaning of sewers of septic tanks is not considered "manual scavenging".
In January this year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had recommended expanding the definition of 'manual scavenging' to also cover other hazardous cleaning activities.
It had demanded action against government officials responsible for alleged incorrect reporting of the number of manual scavengers, adding that many states only "claim" to have no manual scavengers.
It further recommended associating them with programmes like MGNREGA, increasing cash assistance from Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and inclusion of deaths or atrocities against them in the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
The government last year proposed to amend the the 1993 law banning manual scavenging in India, which was earlier amended in 2013 to make it more stringent.