330 People Died Cleaning Tanks, But No Manual Scavenging Deaths: Govt in LS

The Centre also said that there is no report of anyone engaged in manual scavenging.

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330 People Died Cleaning Tanks, But No Manual Scavenging Deaths: Govt in LS
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As many as 330 people have died due to "hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks" from 2017-2022, the Centre said in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 2 August.

It has, however, maintained that there have been no deaths due to 'manual scavenging' in India.

The response was given by Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale to the questions asked by Bahujan Samaj Party MP Girish Chandra, regarding:

  • data available on workers registered as manual scavengers

  • rehabilitation provided to them by the government

  • deaths of those engaged in hazardous sewer and tank cleaning

Uttar Pradesh with 47 cases has topped the list of deaths due to "hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks," followed by Tamil Nadu (43 cases) and Delhi (42 cases).


In the same response, the minister said, "There is no report of people engaged in manual scavenging as defined under Section 2 (1) (g) of the "Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013."

On 28 July, he had acknowledged the presence of over 66,692 officially registered manual scavengers across various states, before the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was amended in 2013.

However, the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, a non-statutory body of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, had in its 2020 Annual report said that 10,228 people across eight states were engaged in manual scavenging between 2013-2018.

The organisation, which elicited the information from state level review meetings, said that the remaining states had claimed that no data was available.

'Swachch Bharat Helped End Manual Scavenging': Athawale

Athawale, while explaining the government's stand that 'no manual scavengers exist', said that more than "10.99 crore sanitary toilets have been constructed in rural areas, over 62.65 lakh in urban areas and insanitary toilets have been converted into sanitary toilets, under the Swachch Bharat Mission."

"This work made a huge contribution towards ending the practice of manual scavenging," he said.

However, In January this year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) while demanding that the state expand its definition of manual scavengers, had condemned the "tall claims made by states about no manual scavengers and the absence of insanitary latrines."


How Does One Get 'Identified' As a Manual Scavenger?

This is not the first time that discrepancies in the definition have surfaced.

On 28 July 2021 too, Athawale's ministry told the Rajya Sabha that no manual scavenger had died in the country in the last five years.

Meanwhile, he had presented data in 2021 which revealed that 340 people had died "cleaning sewers and septic tanks during the last five years (2016-2021)."

According to the government's definition, 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 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.

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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