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Govt app to flag manual scavenging gets 900 uploads from public in 3 months, most from UP

'Swachhata Abhiyan' app launched in December will operate till May. Social justice ministry hopes to identify undocumented manual scavengers for rehabilitation.

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New Delhi: In the less than three months since its launch, the ‘Swachhata Abhiyan’ app, set up to check manual scavenging in the country, has had as many as 900 uploads from the public.

An initiative of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the app was launched to allow citizens to upload photographs and locations of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers.

Despite there being a law against manual scavenging — Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 — the practice continues in the country. According to the act, an insanitary latrine is one that requires human excreta to be cleaned or otherwise handled manually.

In the Lok Sabha last month, the social justice ministry said a total of 340 people had died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the past five years. In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, it said there were currently a total of 66,692 manual scavengers in the country, with 37,379 in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Officials in the ministry who informed ThePrint about the number of uploads received from the public, said the app will be available only till May, following which, the ministry intends to completely focus on mechanising the cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.

Also read: Why manual scavengers in India haven’t got their rights despite laws, judiciary intervention

‘Swachhata Abhiyan’ app gets most uploads from UP

The ‘Swachhata Abhiyan’ app was launched on 24 December with the aim of identifying those manual scavengers who hadn’t been identified in NITI Aayog’s survey report 2018-19.

While the survey report identified 43,610 manual scavengers, based on a report of the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, voluntary organisations informed the ministry that there are more manual scavengers in different parts of the country.

“The decision was then taken to launch this app to allow self-identification and reporting of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers,” said a senior official in the social justice ministry who asked not to be named.

Most of the 900 uploads have come from Uttar Pradesh.

While the data is welcome, officials say it needs to be sieved through.

“Some people have wrongly uploaded photographs of garbage piling up on streets on the app. But that is not what we are looking at. The app is only to identify insanitary latrines and manual scavengers so that district administrators can go and inspect the site and make a report which is to be sent to the ministry,” the official quoted above said.

The ministry is now waiting for these reports from districts, so that action can be taken to demolish the latrines and construct new ones, and begin rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

“Chief secretaries of all states have been roped in to ensure awareness is created on the ground. In addition, we have also advertised in 17 newspapers across the country. We are trying to do as much as we can within our budget,” the official said.

Mechanising sewer, septic tank cleaning

With plans to shift focus after May, the social justice ministry wants to finish the identification process as soon as possible, and implement the mechanisation of cleaning sewers and drains that will eventually remove the need for manual scavenging.

ThePrint had reported that while Cabinet approval is pending for a draft law on manual scavenging that proposes mechanising the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks, the social justice ministry has already started the groundwork for it.

Accordingly, the Swachhta Udyami Yojana, which facilitates the purchase of equipment by safai karmacharis, has started giving capital subsidy upto Rs 3.75 lakh per safai karmachari to buy machines that may cost between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 15 lakh. The government is also focusing on skill training for safai karmacharis across the country.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: 282 deaths in last 4 years: How Swachh Bharat Mission failed India’s manual scavengers


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