India bans human waste scavenging - and the definition of manual scavenging


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  • joeturner
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Re: India bans human waste scavenging - and the definition of manual scavenging

According to the wording of the Indian Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013:

“manual scavenger” means a person engaged or employed, at the
commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or a local authority
or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise
handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit
into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or a State
Government may notify, before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be
prescribed, and the expression “manual scavenging” shall be construed accordingly.

“sanitary latrine” means a latrine which is not an ‘insanitary latrine’

It looks like the important points are that it is something which is done manually and to an insanitary latrine, which suggests that emptying a UDDT (even manually) is not manual scavenging.

But then looking at what Sulabh say about it, would you want someone to empty a UDDT with their bare hands?
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: India bans human waste scavenging - and the definition of manual scavenging

I recently came across this old thread and thought "I wonder how Wikipedia defines manual scavenging"?
So I took a look at the page:

... and naturally made some quick improvements.
You can see here what I changed if you are curious:

The article mentions "dry latrines" which is probably the term used in the Indian government texts, but I tried to explain the difference for different kinds of toilets.
If I understand it correctly, "manual scavenging" is about having to handle raw, fresh, untreated human exreta.

As we have said in this thread above, it is different if the excreta has been treated, e.g. in composting toilets, UDDTs or even twin pit pour flush latrines.

But I am not an expert on this and I need your help. Please see if you agree with the definition as it now stands (and with the rest of the article). Let me know if you know of other official Indian government definitions for manual scavenging which contradict the definition that I have edited. Also, if you can recommend good publications to cite on this topic, please bring them to my attention:


Definition [edit source | edit]

Manual scavenging refers to the unsafe, undignified removal of raw (fresh and untreated) human excreta from buckets or other containers that are used as toilets or from the pits of simple pit latrines.

Not all forms of dry toilets involve "manual scavenging" to empty them, but only those that require unsafe handling of raw excreta. If on the other hand the excreta is already treated or pre-treated in the dry toilet itself, as is the case for composting toilets and urine-diverting dry toilets for example, then emptying these types of toilets is not classified as "manual scavenging".

Also, emptying the pits of twin pit pour flush toilets is not classified as manual scavenging in India, as the excreta is already partly treated and degraded in those pits.

To edit this, click here and then click on "edit":


One thing I am not clear on is how to factor in the new "container based sanitation" solutions, which we discussed e.g. here on the forum (go to Page 4 of the discussion):

Or here in Haiti:

And here in Kenya:

I.e. is there any way to excluding them from the "manual scavenging" definition, e.g. by pointing out that if people wear personal protective equipment and are trained properly then this job is not undignified nor unsafe. I mean the whole point of prohibiting the manual scavenging was to protect the "lowest caste people" (even if caste is also abolished since some time) from stigma and exploitation, wasn't it (and not to prevent certain types of toilets if they are safe).


P.S. Oh and since we have so many Indian SuSanA members, could you also take a look at the Wikipedia article on "Water supply and sanitation in India" please? I made some updates regarding its sanitation content but it could do with further improvements since India's sanitation situation is such a hot topic in the media these days:
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
Located in Ulm, Germany
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  • lucasdengel
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Re: India bans human waste scavenging

The scavenging prohibition act of the Indian Government was passed 20 yrs ago. Its background is one of the worst manifestations of the caste system, i.e. the fact that dalits (outcasts) removed fresh feces of other people from dry toilets, without protective clothing, without any sophisticated tools, but with hands, broom, a crude shovel and a pan. The difference between a) having to earn your living with removing fresh feces and b) removal of fully sanitized fecal compost from a UDDT, or c) a hygienically organized removal and disposal service for sludge or not-yet-fully-composted feces, is well understood by the highest offices of India, though not necessarily by all administrators and middle-level officers in the chain of service provision.

It is not the scavenging prohibition act that promotes flush toilets, it is the global image of flush sanitation as the state-of-the-art mode of sanitation.

Addition by moderator (EvM) on 8. Sept. 2013:

I went into the archive of the old ecosanres Yahoo group (which is now closed because the have the forum now) where we had discussed this issue three years ago. There were a number of interesting e-mails, but I copy here the one of Lucas which I think is very relevant:

From: Lucas <lucasdl@...>
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Fri, September 24, 2010 6:10:32 PM
Subject: Re[2]: EcoSanRes: Social Taboos and Constraints on Sensible Solutions

Hi Sudhir, hi Kent,

this is also in response to Kent's mail which was still under the heading cold weather toilets and read as follows: "Hi Lucas, You touch on the impetus for my question. If there are such stringent social constraints on handling or dealing with feces, then where the heck does it go, how can it possibly be dealt with? It sounds like there is a disconnect between the social constraint and the realities of rural life. ..."

Sudhir, your shortcut through India's recent history contained some unjustifiable short-cuts. Amongst my friends in India I have serious Gandhians; but when it comes to sanitation, they readily agree with me to disagree with Gandhi and to make space for Dr. Ambedkar's approach. Please read summaries in Wikipedia if you like. If you have more time, I recommend: "India Stinking: Manual scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work", a book (slim, 100 pages) by Gita Ramaswamy; Navayana Publishing, 2005.

Because caste-conditioning is still a reality in India, there were good reasons for the (anti-)Scavenger Act 1993. And because there was a good reason for the Act, we, the ecosan promoters of India, were so happy and proud that ecosan was officially integrated into the Total Sanitation Campaign of the GoI earlier this year, and that handling sanitized ecosan end products was clearly distinguished from scavenging.

What politicians and the politics of power & greed & corruption have made out of caste-oriented laws and benefits, is another story altogether and need not be discussed here.

The focus of my earlier comments - still under "cold weather toilets" - was in the statement "Do not underestimate the readiness of humans to change and adapt and adopt when the package deal makes sense, which in general includes economic sense." The so-called cultural or religious reservations that I do encounter in dealing with ecosan, or sanitation in general, or with menstrual hygiene management (supposedly another taboo issue), generally do not originate from the socio-economically lower strata of society (i.e. from lower castes and outcaste). They rarely can afford to have too many reservations; reservations are with the middle class (lower caste that have economically climbed up, lower class that has moved up to be middle class) and are projected unto the lower class, mainly, I guess, to avoid one's uncomfortable involvement in the so-called taboo issues.

The Indian army gets a lot of respect from the common man in India. As far as I understand, this is (was?) also due to the fact that caste conditioning did not matter or mattered very little; that corruption is/was not the rule; that the sense of service to the country, discipline, and respect for the chain of command is/was greater than everything else. That is also why I wondered about Sudhir's repeated mentioning of cultural reservations... If the army cannot do it, who in India can? Thinking of it, I know who can. Most change - of course except the change for "development", the quick buck, and overpaid white-collar jobs in IT - depends on work with women. (This is true for sanitation as well as for other sectors that need reform.) Not because they are particularly "down-trodden", at least not in South India, rather thanks to their amazing self-confidence.

And as regards Kent's question: Where does it go? With enough access to data, in particular regionally accurate data, someone might come to the conclusion that open defecation conserved, to some extent, soil fertility, or counteracted the misuse of soils by the Green Revolution. Unfortunately the benefits of soil fertility seem not to counterbalance the damage in public hygiene. Unfortunately, with people preferably settling along rivers and seashores, most of the excreta seem to pollute the water cycle instead of getting cycled into the soils.... Another book that I warmly recommend: A. Duncan Brown, Feed or Feedback, 2003. Telling the (hi)story of homo sapiens of the last 12,000 years, viewing it from the bottom end so-to-say. Combine it with David R. Montgomery's book Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations, 2007, and you have all the arguments for all agriculture ministries of the world to adopt ecosan...

Rgds, Lucas


And an even older contribution on said forum by Paul Calvert:

From: Paul Calvert
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 6:39 PM
Subject: Re: RE: EcoSanRes: ECOSAN and ecological farming

Dear Kunwar, what I say there is right, thanks for your concurrence and enthusiasm, but as Vishwanath points out, the law is the law. There is a hang-up on 'water-seal' being the only 'safe' toilet. That needs working on, and that is what the ecosan movement is showing.

Similarly there is a very deep rooted and tragic history over manual scavanging. (not mechanised scavanging mind you!). Until the authorities see and understand (and the data shows) that the products coming from 'dry' ecosan toilets are not like those from the so-called 'dry'latrines (where dry = non-waterseal) but in reality nasty smelly wet pit latrines and bucket latrines, we are best to empty them ourselves. The ecosan movement is providing the examples to support this argument. But it is a very sensitive area, and as Vishwanath says we dont want anyone to whip up an emotional campaign against ecosan before they understand it or before we can have some legislation in place permitting it.

Does anyone know about the digging out of dried material from a twin pit pour flush toilets (in India), is that only done by the toilet owner, or do others do it, and not regard it as manual scavanging?



Note by moderator (EvM):
A further reply was moved to here as it's really a new topic:
Dr. Lucas Dengel
Aurosarjan Complex, Auroshilpam
Auroville - 605101, India
website EcoPro:
personal e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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  • AquaVerde
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India bans human waste scavenging - and the definition of manual scavenging

See this article on
India bans human waste scavenging from 7 Sept. 2013:

...The measure prohibits construction of non-flushing toilets that must be emptied by hand...
Is it indirect a promotion of flushing toilets?, AquaVerde Ltd. Zanzibar
"simple" Sanitation-Solutions by gravity
Low-Tech Solutions with High-Tech Effects
"Inspired by Circular Economy and Cooperation"

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