Wednesday, 11 Dec 2019
Swachh Bharat: A Make-Believe Jan Andolan! PDF Print E-mail

By Pradeep Narayanan, Shireen Kurian and Hemlata Kansotia*

The Central Rural Sanitation Programme was launched as early as in 1986. It adopted the total sanitation approach and became the Total Sanitation Campaign in 1999. The campaign then adopted the Community-led Total Sanitation approach, and was christened the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012.

Then, in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it into a ‘people’s movement’ – sort of a flagship programme. The government roped in several entities at various levels and layers -- from the Cabinet, ministries, state and district administration, urban authorities to the village Panchayats – to make the campaign successful by informing, advocating, penalising and sometimes, even threatening, citizens to put an end to open defecation.

There is no doubt that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has caught the imagination of the people --- and it looks like the governance system at all levels is now working on sanitation. In fact, corporates are into building toilets now and Bollywood is not far behind with a film on the same theme. At no point in time has sanitation got so much limelight as now. Full credit to the Prime Minister!

The unique part of the programme is its almost single-target approach: achieving an Open-Defecation Free India by 2 October 2019, by constructing 12 million toilets in rural India, at a projected cost of 1.96 lakh crore. SBM has one of the best websites among the government missions with almost live monitoring of the national programme. There is a live monitoring of four indicators - Household toilets constructed, declared Open-Defecation Free Villages, ODF across Namami Gange and toilet photographs. It has a dashboard that provides live data. In the two days between writing this blog and publishing it, the number of toilets has gone up from “4,97,18,476 household toilets built since 2nd October, 2014” to 4,98,76,851, hinting at more than 70 toilets every minute.

According to the 2011 Census, there were still 26 lakh dry latrines in the country requiring many thousands of families to be engaged in the appalling and degrading occupation of manual scavenging. As per the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011) data of manual scavengers released by the Ministry of Rural Development on 03.07.2015, there were still 1,82,505 households with manual scavengers in only the rural areas of the country[1]. 65,181 households were identified in the state of Maharashtra alone as people still engaged in the practice of cleaning human excreta manually. This number is clearly an under-estimate, for the SECC has enumerated just 356 manual scavengers in the two states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which as per census-2011, have 2.28 lakh insanitary latrines out of which 10,357 are serviced manually. They are also stated to have 52,767 latrines that are kept clean using scavenging animals even as some of these are cleaned manually from time to time[2]. There is wide variation between the beneficiary numbers stated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Census, with the former stating a number more than the latter. For example, the figures from the ministry as beneficiaries of their programme were 64,195, 45,822, 57,736 and 35,561 for Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu respectively, whereas corresponding SECC figures for the states were amazingly low at 56, 356, 3592 and 167 respectively. Clearly, the State does not have any credible data on manual scavenging.

One look at the dashboard of the SBM website and the question that comes to mind is instinctive: is the absence of data caused by lack of resources or by absence of political will?

A form of manual scavenging that gets reported on almost regular basis, especially because of the fatal nature of the occupation is the sewer-based work. Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices has been supporting the National Campaign for Sewerage Workers with research on this issue. Its 2014 study, Down the Drain, identified caste system and sub-contracting system as two axes of the wheel that is causing sewer deaths in the country. It recently analyzed and documented media reports on sewer deaths and found the following:


No. of Incidents

No. of Deaths









Gujarat, Andhra, Karnataka








Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka








Delhi, MP




Delhi, UP, Chhattisgarh





Headlines collation

This is just collation of newspaper articles over the last nine months. There would have been a number of unreported incidents. There is absolutely no data that the Government of India shares on sewer deaths, let alone about the number of sewer workers in the country. The Safai Karmachari Andolan has painstakingly collected information on deaths in the sewage system. It does not cover all the states. Figure 1 below, prepared by Scroll, shows the trend. The current year has seen an increasing trend. Neither the state nor the civil society has credible information database to analyse the reasons behind the increasing trend. Is this to do with increasing privatization and sub-contracting or is it the collateral damage of the implementation of the Smart City programme?

It is numbing to know that the 1,96,000 crore Swachh Bharat Mission does not even see this as its mandate!

There is a very strong and straight forward law now - the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. It not only explicitly bans manual scavenging, including sewer work by the worker, but also provides manual scavengers the right to rehabilitation as entitlement. It is an Act that provides right to dignity and right to rahabilitation in one go. Further, in March, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that is a punishable offence to send mandual scavengers into sewers or septic tanks without adequate safety equipment. It also stipulated a compensation of 10 lakh for the family of any manual scavenger who has died, since 1993 while cleaning a sewer. Based on the 2013 Act, the Self Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) was revised to provide the following benefits to the identified manual scavengers and their dependents: (i) Onetime cash assistance of 40,000/- to identified manual scavengers; (ii) Loans for project cost up to 15.00 lakh on concessional rates of interest and; (iii) Credit linked back-end capital subsidy up to 3,25,000.

What is the least that was expected from Swachch Bharat Abhiyan - an acknowledgement of this problem and allocation for the scheme? However, Figure 2 below shows the allocation to this scheme during the life of SBM.

Figure 2: Self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers.


The allocation to the scheme is decreasing. It is actually a crime to have an allocation of just Rs 5 crore for a scheme such as this, which is mandated by a Parliamentary Act. It is also an insult to the Supreme Court judgement of March 2013, to the Parliament and of course to the people of India.

At the root of the current sanitation paradigm, there lies a political economy that (a) perpetuates caste system and (b) promotes sub-contracting. Manual scavenging is legally banned.

An upper caste policy-maker does not digest this ban, for this would challenge the very superiority of his caste. It circumvents the ban through an arrangement wherein the Government sub-contracts the ‘task’ to a contractor, in whose name the Government itself ‘uses’ a Dalit worker to go down the drain. The Dalit worker has never seen the contractor. His mai-baap is the sarkaar. He remains a job applicant for permanent work at ages 18, 28, 38 and 48! And the pity is he never gets the job; there is a long queue which undertakes this work with the same dream, for there is no rehabilitation arrangement for the traditional communities who were/are dependent on the ‘scavenging’ task.

Links to articles

· Three sanitation workers die in a sewer in Bengaluru (7 March 2017)

A Dalit youth died while cleaning sewage tank (9 June 2017)


· Two workers die in sewer in Vijayawada (15 March 2017)

· Four die inside the septic tank in Udaipur (4 April, 2017)

· Two sewer workers choke to death in Patti, Punjab (1 May 2017)

· Three labourers die while cleaning manhole in Malad (17 Feb 2017)

· Two BMC cleaners die in a bid to get phone out of manhole in Powai (13 May 2017)

· 4 sanitation workers die in MP while cleaning the septic tank (July 31)

· Four sanitation workers die of asphyxiation while cleaning a tank (July 15, 2017)

· 3 sanitation workers suffocate to death (7 August 2017) 2017),sbd:1,ar:1&tbm=nws&ei=PIrLWZXuF4ztvAS7grXwCg&start=0&sa=N&biw=1131&bih=706&dpr=1

· Two sanitation workers die after inhaling toxic gas (12 August 2017)

· One sanitation worker dies after inhaling toxic Gas while cleaning sewer at Delhi Hospital on (21 August 2017)

· Labourer dies without using the Mask in Agra (21 August 2017)

*All views are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation


Taxation without Representation: GST Council has no woman or dalit! PDF Print E-mail

Pradeep Narayanan

Amidst the slogans of “One Nation One Tax”, one thing that is probably a saving grace is that the slogan, thankfully, is a misnomer. There is no one tax. GST regime, with five slabs of tax rates and continued presence of luxury taxes and exceptions to fuels and alcohol, excludes almost one-third of the national production. Taxation is a policy instrument that incentivizes and promotes certain industry so that the objectives of employment and even self-reliance could be realized.


In fact, there is probably no “one nation”. We should remember what Ambedkar stated, decades ago, “How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? Whenever there is any conflict of interest between the country and the untouchables, so far as I am concerned, the untouchables’ interests will take precedence over the interests of the country”. Ask 20 million people who are called as Denotified tribes, they are continuously stigmatised and harassed under the same uniform criminal law. They crave for a Sampurna Vimukti (complete denotification) to proudly call this nation as their own nation. The same is true for different identities, including women. And if there were One Tax, assuming that there is One Nation, it has a potential to destruct the very concept of Nation, because it is better to acknowledge diversity and integrate, rather than solving diversity and disintegrate.

The Government of India introduced the Goods and Services Tax as an effective policy instrument on July 1 2017. It is promoted as a very significant growth story. The first growth story is clearly about the potential role of GST in enhancing the Ease of Doing Business Index, ranking and thereby influencing investments, which would promote India’s economic growth rate. This is a story, which of course sees ‘growth in GDP’ as the driver of human progress. Further, it is envisaged that the income from taxes would substantially increase-, which the Government would be able to support development projects.

The second progress story is about criterion for assigning tax slabs. There have been interesting debates on different goods and services being assigned different tax slabs. Clearly, this story is about how the Government could instrumentalise the slab rates to promote a certain industry over another. The criteria of assigning slabs here would be important. The tax slabs could even be used as instruments to promote responsible production and consumption. A gender lobby could influence the body to ensure that sanitary napkins made by women run small-scale enterprises is assigned the lowest slab. This story, therefore, is a very significant political story - for whoever is able to ‘influence’ the body that determines criteria and tax slabs successfully, would win! The growth would depend upon how successfully the government is able to incentivize different parts of Indian economy through this instrument.

The third progress story is probably the most important from the lens of marginalized communities. This is the story about “who decided the GST slabs”. It is important to look through the establishment of the GST Council – and determine whether it is an indication of human progress or not. What has GST council done to the following three relationships among constituents? Firstly, how has GST impacted the accountability relationship between the State and the people? According to a Member of Parliament, “From 2018, the budget will not be about taxation. The Executive has abrogated the right of the Legislature.” Is it not true that what has got abrogated is the right of the people to be represented in the budget decisions-through representative institutions? Isn't it true that the role of legislatures at the Centre as well as states has been curtailed? Is it not true that a lot of discussions that happens in the Parliament on taxation would now be limited? Does it not have impact on the democracy negatively? It is actually the right of the people to be represented in budget decisions, which has been abrogated. An institution directly elected by the people no longer does taxation.

Secondly, when there is a growingly felt need to decentralise and bring Government closer to the people, does GST council not redefine relationship between Centre and States in a more centralized fashion? According to a Minister in a provincial Government, “The GST takes away the ability to raise revenues at the state level. This just leaves the elected State Government with a job that's best left to bureaucracy- that is, implementation”. The taxation responsibility on a number of issues has moved away from the state governments to an institution located at the central level. Is the principle of cooperative-federalism to be the new mask for centralization? It is important to understand that the power of ‘local’ has been curtailed through the establishment of this council.

Finally, there is high possibility that the representation from marginalized identities would have substantially reduced in the taxation role. The GST Council does not have a single woman member. There is probably not a single Dalit face in the Council. The GST Council has membership only for the Union Finance Minister and Finance Ministers of all states. It is important to note that there has never been a Dalit Finance Minister in Union Cabinet. Indira Gandhi was the only woman to ever ‘man’ the Finance portfolio in the Union Cabinet, way back in 1969. There have been women chief ministers, but a woman finance minister in even the state cabinet is a rarity. Taxation until last year was decided by the Parliament and State legislatures, which had relatively more numbers of woman and Dalits, so can the establishment of the GST Council with this kind of membership be termed as human progress? I believe even if the first and second progress stories become true, the third story defines human progress more definitively than the other two stories. The establishment of GST Council has now circumvented the entire success of reservation, which ensured representativeness to Parliament. If representativeness were a criterion, GST council probably could have representation from other Ministries as well. I believe even if the first and second progress stories become true, the third story defines human progress more definitively than the other two stories. Is taxation all about Finance? Is it not about making economy inclusive?

It is all about how one defines progress. How will you define a progressing country- India, with a growth rate of 7 to 8 per cent, with marital rape not criminalized, or, Tonga with a growth rate of 3.5% having criminalized marital rape recently in 2013?