‘NAMASTE’ Project

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    • Recently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is preparing to undertake a nationwide survey to enumerate all people engaged in hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, an activity that has led to at least 351 deaths since 2017.

    Manual Scavenging & Sanitation workers 

    • Manual scavenging: It is one of the most undignified and inhuman forms of sanitation work, wherein in absence of adequate sanitation systems and mechanization and protective gear, workers who clean insanitary dry latrines, empty septic tanks, clean railway tracks, etc., come in direct contact with human faeces, without any protective gear or required support measures.
    • Sanitation workers: They are those who do various tasks such as cleaning toilets and spaces; cleaning and emptying, septic tanks and sewers; collecting, segregating and disposing of different types of waste; operating sewage treatment plants, etc.

    About the recent plan of nationwide survey/ NAMASTE Project

    • Enumeration exercise, soon to be conducted across 500 AMRUT cities, is part of the Union government’s National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE).
      • It will streamline the process of rehabilitating sanitation workers and eventually merge with and replace the Self-Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), which was started in 2007. 
    • The NAMASTE scheme is being undertaken jointly by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the MoSJ&E and aims to eradicate unsafe sewer and septic tank cleaning practices
    • Benefits under the scheme will include capital subsidies of up to 5 lakh on sanitation machinery costing up to 15 lakh and interest subsidies on loans, where interest rates will be capped between 4-6% for the beneficiaries, with the government taking care of the rest of the interest.
    • The scheme also provides for training the workers in the use of these machines, during which time a stipend of up to 3,000 per month will be provided.
    • The scheme will also provide for sanitation workers to train for and go into any of the approved list of alternative occupations in sectors like agriculture, services, electronics assembling, and handicrafts and so on. 

    Concerns associated with manual scavenging 

    • Scavenging is mostly carried out by a subgroup of the Dalits, an outcast community also known as “untouchables” within India’s ancient system of caste hierarchies.
      • “Untouchables” are often impoverished, shunned by society and forbidden from touching Indians of other castes, or even their food.
    • Scavenging continues in parts of India largely due to governmental indifference and social prejudice.
    • There is a complete absence of planning for the maintenance of sewerage, septic tanks, and waste disposal systems in the urban policies made for the city by the state and private companies.
    • The number of people killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks has increased over the last few years. 

    Government Measures to Tackle Manual Scavenging

    • Legislative:
      • The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993
        • It set imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of Rs 2,000 for pushing a person to manual scavenging.
      • Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) 2017 
        • It is a successor scheme to the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents with the objective to rehabilitate remaining manual scavengers and their dependents in alternative occupations, in a time-bound manner.
      • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013
        • The Act put an end to the practice of any form of manual cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling of human waste.
        • The act says the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
    • Amendment Bill, 2020
      • The Bill proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
      • It will also ban employing people as manual scavengers without protective gear.
    • National Commission for Safai Karamcharis
      • It was constituted in 1994 as a statutory body by an Act of Parliament viz. National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993, for a period of three years i.e. up to 31st March 1997. 
    • Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers
      • SRMS provides for save for one component a one-time cash transfer of 40,000.   
    • Swachhta mobile app
      • Several attempts have been made to identify more manual scavengers, including through the Swachhta mobile app.
    • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has made a series of recommendations to the Centre to eradicate manual scavenging and these are
      • The Centre should provide Rs. 10 lakh loan to manual scavengers’ family members so that they can start some business activity.
      • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) should monitor the sewer deaths in its reports.
      • The NHRC recommended expanding the definition of manual scavenging in order to cover other hazardous cleaning or enacting a new law for hazardous cleaning.
    • Supreme Court Directions:
      • The Supreme Court issued directions in 2014 to prevent and control the practice and also to prosecute the offenders.
      • It also directed the government to pay a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh rupees to the family members of those killed in acts of manual scavenging since 1993.
    • Constitutional Safeguards:
      • The Right to Live with Dignity is implicit in the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution. 
      • Article 46 of the Constitution, on the other hand, provides that the State shall protect the weaker sections, particularly the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

    Way Forward

    • The practice of manual scavenging no longer takes place in the country as all manual scavengers had been accounted for and enrolled into the rehabilitation scheme.
    • Swachhta Udyami Yojana: eventually, the idea is to also link these sanitation workers to the Swachhta Udyami Yojana, through which the workers will be able to own sanitation machines themselves and the government will ensure that at the municipality level. 
    • The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan should make expansion of the sewer network a top priority and come up with a scheme for scientific maintenance that will end the manual cleaning of septic tanks. 
    • The laws should be enforced vigorously to eliminate manual scavenging in its entirety.
    • There should be trials and testing of protective gears and provisions for better healthcare facilities, insurance cover, pension plans and regulations on preventive and social medicine education for the manual scavengers.

    Source: TH