By Swagata Yadavar
The central government has claimed that 91% of manual scavengers have been provided a one-time cash payment of Rs 40,000 and 108% of identified scavengers and their dependants have been selected for skill training under the rehabilitation programme for manual scavengers.
Of 12,742 manual scavengers identified in India after the promulgation of The Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, 11,598 (91%) have been provided one-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000 each as part of their rehabilitation, according to the April 2017 reply to the Lok Sabha by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot.
There are 182,505 households in rural India with at least one member doing manual scavenging, according to Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011.
Assuming there is only one person in those identified households doing manual scavenging, there are at least 182,505 manual scavengers in India.
There are 740,078 households where night soil -- human excreta -- is removed by human beings, according to Census 2011.
Proposals for skill development training of 13,827 manual scavengers and their dependents (that is, 108% of the 12,742 identified) have been sanctioned, the minister said.
A manual scavenger is a person engaged to manually clean, carry, dispose off, or otherwise handle in any manner human excreta, that is not decomposed.
Manual scavenging has been abolished in India; employing a manual scavenger has been made a cognisable offence with imprisonment and fine since 1993.
Since 2013, states have been made responsible for identifying and rehabilitating manual scavengers by providing them training, giving assistance, loans and even houses.
Under the Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers launched in 2007, 18 states and union territories identified 118,474 manual scavengers and their dependents for rehabilitation.
As many as 78,941 beneficiaries found to be eligible and willing were provided loans. After the enactment of the 2013 law, an additional cash assistance of Rs 40,000 was to be given to each scavenger identified, and the loan amount was increased up to Rs 15 lakh for sanitation projects.
It is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the panchayat or the municipal corporation to find the manual scavengers in the locality and give them identity cards and benefits as mentioned under the law.
It also makes it mandatory for all claims of being a manual scavenger to be verified by the local authority in order to be included in the identified list.
So far, only 13 states have been able to identify 12,742 manual scavengers. This comes to around 7% of the 2011 social economic census figure.
There are 22 states where not a single person has self-declared to be a manual scavenger, according to data from the ministry of social justice and empowerment.
"The problem lies in identification of manual scavenging," according to 2016 Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson, founder and national convener of Safai Karamchari Andolan, which works to improve lives of manual scavengers and to end the practice. "There has been no survey conducted to find the number of manual scavengers in India in the last ten years," Wilson added.
"It is left to the states to identify the numbers and many states have submitted affidavits in court saying there is not a single manual scavenger in their states," Wilson said.
There are 160,000 dry latrine cleaners in India with 23,000 of them verified by photo, Wilson said. There are 2.6 million latrines that require human excreta to be cleaned by hand. Manual scavenging is linked to the presence of dry latrines in the country.
"In view of the prevalence of large number of insanitary latrines, the number of manual scavengers identified in the country is too small," according to this 2015 Independence Day feature by the ministry of social justice and empowerment. "Even the identification of insanitary latrines is not in agreement with the data of Census 2011," it said.
It also mentioned that most states claim they do not have a single insanitary latrine due to fear of contempt of court.
"Under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, most states are interested in constructing new toilets but not in converting dry latrines into sanitary latrines," said Wilson, adding that "Madhya Pradesh has municipal corporations that are maintaining dry community latrines...this shows that their intention to abolish manual scavenging is not honest."
Even among manual scavengers identified, training has been slow over the first two years. Self-employment projects -- where loans up to Rs 500,000 are sanctioned at low interest rates -- fare worse: Only 658 projects, benefiting five per cent of the identified, were sanctioned in three years with no projects sanctioned in 2017-18.
The reasons for the slow progress of rehabilitation are illiteracy of manual scavengers, their lack of confidence in running self-employment projects, and the hesitancy of banks in providing them loans due to low recovery, according to the 2015 feature from the ministry of social justice and empowerment.
"Due to low confidence levels, the identified manual scavengers demand that they may be provided jobs of safai karamchari (sanitation workers) in local authorities," the ministry said.
The budget for SRMS has been slashed nearly 98% because of low utilisation. From a budget of Rs 448 crore in 2014-15, it was increased to Rs 470 crore in 2015-16 but has now been reduced to Rs 5 crore in 2017-18 with only Rs 56 crore spent in four years.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with which Swagata Yadavar is principal correspondent. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)