Correcting a Historical Wrong
“National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE)” aims at formalization and Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers
Those engaged in “India’s dirtiest job” are predominantly Dalits, who face social exclusion and violence across the country owing to their caste identity. “No place in the world sends people to gas chambers to die,” the Supreme Court had said on sewer deaths in 2019, asking the Centre why protective gear was not provided to sanitation workers. In its judgment in Delhi Jal Board vs National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & Ors (2011), the apex court stated: “The human beings who are employed for doing the work in the sewers cannot be treated as mechanical robots, who will not be affected by poisonous gases in the manholes. The state and its agencies or the contractors engaged by them are under a constitutional obligation to ensure the safety of the persons who are asked to undertake hazardous jobs.”
And this was despite the fact that in 2013 that the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had banned manual scavenging in the National Capital Region (NCR).
While presenting the Union Budget on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that all cities and towns would switch to 100 percent mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers, putting an end to manual scavenging.
Reportedly, as of February this year, there were 58,098 “eligible manual scavengers” across the country, who manually clean sewers and septic tanks and handle human excreta.
On February 8, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Athawale, told the Rajya Sabha that at least 308 individuals have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the past five years (2018-2022), of which 52 were from Tamil Nadu, 46 from Uttar Pradesh, 40 from Haryana, 38 from Maharashtra, and 33 from Delhi. However, experts say the actual figure could be higher since FIRs are not registered in many cases.
Athawale said that a scheme called National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE) has been formulated to promote mechanisation; sewer and septic tank workers are to be provided with training and protection gear besides health insurance, and the scheme will cover all urban local bodies in the country.
The government is now sure that because of various measures, particularly Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) , the menace of manual scavenging has been almost eliminated this year, with no news on any sewer/septic tank related deaths due to hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
Cases of death earlier in this regard have been taken up with the concerned State Government for payment of compensation of Rs.10 lakh as per Supreme Court orders.
Thus, the main problem these days is hazardous cleaning of Sewer and Septic tanks and non observance of safety precautions due to which precious human life is lost.
To eliminate hazardous cleaning, stop deaths of sewer and septic tank workers and ensure their safety and dignity, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) have jointly formulated a Scheme namely National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE). The existing components of SRMS have been kept as components of NAMASTE Scheme. The scheme is to be implemented in all 4800+ Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) of the country, during the three years upto 2025-26 with an outlay of Rs. 349.70 crore.
Interventions of NAMASTE Component
– Profiling of SSWs: NAMASTE envisages profiling of the Sewer/Septic Tank Workers (SSWs). List of SSWs would be obtained from the concerned ULBs and thereafter detailed profiling of the SSWs would be undertaken through profiling camps.
– Occupational Safety Training and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Kits to SSWs
– Assistance for Safety Devices to Sanitation Response Units (SRUs) for hazardous cleaning operations.
– Extending Health Insurance Scheme Benefits: For providing a safety net to identified SSWs and their families, they will be covered under the Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY). The premium for AB-PMJAY for those identified Manual scavengers and SSWs families who are not covered earlier shall be borne under NAMASTE.
– Livelihood Assistance: The Action Plan will promote mechanization and enterprise development. National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC) will provide funding support and capital subsidy to the Manual Scavengers, sanitation workers and their dependents to procure sanitation related equipment and vehicles under Swachhata Udyami Yojana (SUY) to make them “Saniprenure”. In addition to this, providing capital subsidy to identified manual scavengers and their dependents for self employment projects will be continued.
– Identified manual scavengers and their dependents will be provided skill development training for a period upto two years with monthly stipend of Rs.3000/-.
– Convergence of Programmes of MoSJE & MoHUA: The safety of SSWs is a joint responsibility of MoSJE and MoHUA. Hence, the intent of NAMASTE is to strengthen convergence amongst both Ministries for governance and implementation of the NAMASTE components. The Action Plan leverages the available financial allocations of existing SRMS, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM) and NSKFDC and brings in a focused approach to provide occupational, social and financial safety nets to the SSWs.
– IEC Campaign: Massive campaigns would be undertaken jointly by the ULBs & NSKFDC to spread awareness about the interventions of NAMASTE. Electronic and print media and hoardings at prominent locations shall be used for the campaign in local language and English/Hindi. Maximum use of social media during the publicity would be ensured.
Besides, following notable facts need a mention:
1. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment initiated two surveys of manual scavengers in the year 2013 and in the year 2018. During these surveys, a total of 58098 eligible manual scavengers have been identified and all of them have been provided the One Time Cash Assistance of Rs. 40,000/-.
2. Out of this, 22294 willing identified manual scavengers/dependents have been provided Skill development training.
3. Capital Subsidy has been released in respect of 2313 manual scavengers/dependants who have availed bank loans for self employment projects.
4. In addition to this, 641 Safai karamcharis and their dependents have been sanctioned capital subsidy for sanitation related projects to minimise death during sewer and septic tank cleaning.
5. National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation has held 1177 workshops till date for the staff of municipalities and contractors to sensitize them about mechanized cleaning of sewers and septic tanks and the provisions of MS Act, 2013 and MS Rules, 2013.
6. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment launched a mobile app “Swachhata Abhiyaan” on 24.12.2020 to capture the data of insanitary latrines still existing and manual scavengers associated with them. The app can be downloaded free from the Google Play Store. Any person can upload the data of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers on the mobile app.
7. All States/Districts have been requested to declare their district free from manual scavenging. As on date, such confirmation from 665 districts out of 766 districts.