Terming manual scavenging as the "worst example" of violation of right to life, the NHRC has issued notices to the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government over reports of the plight of people employed in such jobs in the country, including 30 women in Meerut.
Taking suo motu cognisance, the National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the secretary, Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh.
The commission today said it has sought, within six weeks, a detailed report in the matter along with the steps taken or proposed to be taken to deal with the situation and measures employed for relief and rehabilitation of such victims.
"Narrating the plight of the 30 women manual scavengers in Radhna Inayatpur village of Mawana in the district (Meerut), of whom many have grown old doing this work, the media report, carried on June 15, says that they are paid as little as between Rs 10 and Rs 50 per month, per household to clean the dry latrines and sometimes, as a bonus, they are given stale leftover food and worn-out clothes," the NHRC said.
Due to exposure to filth, most of them have multiple health issues, such as vomiting, constant headache, skin and respiratory diseases, trachoma, anaemia, carbon monoxide poisoning and diarrhoea, including infections like leptospirosis, hepatitis and helicobacter, the commission observed.
"To avoid the stench, they often smoke beedis. One of the women has contracted tuberculosis, forcing her to stop working as a manual scavenger. The worst happens during rainy season, when the excreta slip from the basket on their hair and shoulders," the NHRC said, recounting the inhuman condition they suffer.
The commission goes on to observe that "The district Meerut is almost a part of the national capital region. If this is the picture of an area not very far from the national capital, one can imagine the scenario in the other parts of the country."
The news report further says that the Union Social Justice and Empowerment minister, on March 16 had admitted, in response to a Parliament question that "13 states and union territories reported identification of 12,737 manual scavengers till January 2017," the NHRC said.
The central government has announced the Swachh Bharat Mission to construct over 12 crore toilets in rural parts of the country.
"However, the project hardly gives a thought to the workers who will be required to clean these toilets. There is no budgetary allocation under the scheme to construct sewer lines to deal with the excreta," it observed.
Considering it as the "worst example" of violation of right to life, dignity, equality and health care, the NHRC observed that in a civilised society, where the government has passed laws like Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, Untouchability Offence Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Caste (PoA) Act, the women of a vulnerable Dalit community are still not able to get rid of the slur of carrying human excreta on their heads.
Reportedly, the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) constituted by the government, grants Rs 40,000 to liberated manual scavengers, which they can withdraw in monthly instalments of not more than Rs 7,000.
"The process of rehabilitation of women manual scavengers is also gendered because all the rehabilitation schemes are aimed at male breadwinners," the commission said, quoting from the reports.
According to a media report, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste has observed that the expenditure on loans for rehabilitation of manual scavengers in the last three years is "negligible". "The identification of manual scavengers is done by the village pradhans," it added.
"Many a times, several leaders name their family members to get the loan. Sometimes, they just fail to identify all the manual scavengers in their area. Reportedly, the process of getting loans has also become difficult as the banks do not trust the community for loans," the commission observed.