AN INTER-MINISTERIAL task force has counted up to 53,236 people involved in manual scavenging in India, a four-fold rise from the 13,000-odd such workers accounted for in official records until 2017. While the numbers are an improvement from before, when a majority of states denied the existence of the practice, it is still a gross underestimate as it includes data from only 121 of the more than 600 districts in the country.
More importantly, it does not include those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and data from the Railways, which is the largest employer of manual scavengers. Of the 53,000 identified so far through the national survey, only a total of 6,650 have been confirmed officially by states in keeping with the tendency to under-report the prevalence of this practice.
The task force is expected to submit its final tally on the National Survey of Manual Scavengers by the end of this month.The survey was to be undertaken in 170 districts of 18 states where the maximum number of “insanitary latrines” were demolished and converted into “sanitary latrines”. However, according to official records, only 121 districts in 12 states have been covered — Bihar, J&K, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana and West Bengal are yet to participate in the survey.
“Of the 12 states that cooperated with us for the survey, there was reluctance when it came to verifying the numbers identified by us,” a task force member said.
The maximum number of manual scavengers — 28,796 — have been registered in UP. States such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, which had earlier reported zero or about 100, have now upped their count. Moreover, much of urban India has not been included. This is because while data on insanitary to sanitary toilet conversion has been made available for rural areas, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is in charge of Swachh Bharat (Urban), has informed the Social Justice Ministry that such “data for is not maintained separately.”