New Delhi: Several districts of Uttar Pradesh continue to have insanitary latrines where illegal practice of manual scavenging is still carried out, according to complaints received by the Narendra Modi government on its ‘Swachhata Abhiyan’ app launched last year.
Of the complaints received from 14 states, Uttar Pradesh topped the chart with 863 complaints, followed by Maharashtra with 36 and West Bengal 30, government documents accessed by ThePrint showed.
The government had launched the ‘Swachhta Abhiyan’ mobile application last December to send alerts about all information posted by people related to manual scavenging to the district collectors across states.
Since 2013, construction and maintenance of insanitary latrines and engagement of people for manual scavenging is prohibited under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
As far as rehabilitation of manual scavengers is concerned, the latest update available with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment points out that more than 66,000 manual scavengers have been identified since 2013-14 through surveys by states and through national survey in 2018-19.
The 2011 Census had reported the existence of about 26 lakh insanitary latrines of which more than 7 lakh latrines were being cleaned manually.
ThePrint reached Deepak Kumar, Principal Secretary, Housing and Urban Planning, Uttar Pradesh, through phone calls and text messages for a comment but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
ThePrint also reached Khalil Ahmed, Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Department, West Bengal, through WhatsApp and text messages, but there was no response.
Sanjay Chahande, Additional Chief Secretary, Water Supply and Sanitation, Maharashtra, was also contacted through text and WhatsApp messages, but there was no response from him.
But a senior central government official said, “Most of the insanitary latrines have been demolished and converted into sanitary latrines under the Swachh Bharat Mission implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in urban areas and by the department of Drinking Water and Sanitation in rural areas.”
“However, there have been reports about the existence of insanitary latrines and some persons being still engaged as manual scavengers in some areas,” the official added.
No response from states
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had shared the complaints received through the app with the states asking them to take action, but have not heard from them yet.
“Action-taken report with photographs/videos of demolished insanitary latrines and sanitary latrines constructed in its place were to be loaded on the portal within three weeks. The period has elapsed and the concerned district collectors have not either rejected or accepted the claim on their dashboards,” said the above-quoted official.
In a letter sent to the principal secretary of UP on 4 March, the ministry stated that “despite above mentioned provisions in the Act, Government has been receiving reports from time to time about the existence of insanitary latrines in different parts of the country, including some areas in the state of Uttar Pradesh”.
The ministry has sent such letters to all the states concerned.
According to the data from the app, maximum complaints in Uttar Pradesh have been reported from Budaun (459), followed by Kasganj (169), Bareilly (113) and Ghaziabad (36).
In Maharashtra, maximum complaints have come from Nashik (24) and Thane (10). In West Bengal, 29 complaints have come from Purba Medinipur and one from Medinipur West.
The ministry has also asked the states to share details of manual scavengers if any, but it hasn’t been done yet.
The letter to the UP government stated that under Section 5 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, local authorities need to ensure that every insanitary latrine existing on the date of commencement of this Act, be demolished and converted into a sanitary latrine, by the occupier.
“The time limit specified under Section 4 (b) for demolition of insanitary latrine and construction of a sanitary latrine in its place was six months from the date of coming into force of the Act, which had expired long back in 2014,” the letter said.
“Further, under Section 19 (b) of the MS Act, 2013, the District Magistrate and the authority authorised under Section 18 or any other subordinate officers specified by them under that Section shall ensure that after expiry of such period no one constructs, maintains, uses or makes available for use, an insanitary latrine,” it added.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)