Namaste – National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem is a joint venture of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The skill development and training of Safai Mitras is being taken up with the support of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment through the National Safai Karamchari Finance Development Corporation.
In addition, for safe and sustainable sanitation, MoHUA has issued the Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) Policy, 2017 which emphasises implementation of legal prohibition of manual scavenging under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and the Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and has also prescribed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for safe cleaning of sewer and septic tanks in November 2018.
According to the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry, of the 43,797 identified manual scavengers, over 42,500 of them belong to the Scheduled Castes. The sanitation workforce is largely informal and stuck in a generational cycle; an estimated 75% of the women involved were born into or married into this profession. Regardless of the work being a hazard, the blanket of social security amongst the workers is absent, almost 90% of the workforce is without insurance.
Significantly lower than the national average of 70 years, the average life expectancy of sanitation workers is 40–45 years. Furthermore, they experience high rates of prolonged illness and mortality because of the work they do. Work-related mortality is high: 375–475 people who work in manual scavenging died on the job over the past five years, primarily due to asphyxiation while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. Several workers turn to alcohol and drugs to placate their suffering.
The workers without safety gear like PPE kits, hard hats, and harnesses engage in life-threatening conditions. Sanitation infrastructure in most Indian cities is also outdated and difficult to operate with machines, thereby requiring human intervention. Replacing this infrastructure with modern options requires significant budgets and political will. The new sanitation infrastructure being planned across cities should be based on ‘zero human touch‘ design principles.
In light of these challenges, and to provide impetus to the ongoing efforts towards mechanisation and the safety of workers, both MoHUA and the Social Justice Ministries jointly launched ‘NAMASTE’ (National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem) Scheme to enhance occupational safety, improve access to safety gears and machines, provide skilled-wage opportunities, and focus on continuous capacity building while breaking the intergenerationality of sanitation work. In order to ensure enforcement and monitoring of safe sanitation work, strengthened supervisory and monitoring systems at national, state, and ULB levels are envisaged.
Furthermore, the creation of a training ecosystem of present and prospective workers for core sanitation work that involves training on occupational safety by incorporating interactive pedagogy, both theory and practise, pre- and post-training assessment, and certification.
The scheme has been approved with an outlay of Rs. 360 crore for four years, from 2022-23 to 2025-26.
The scheme is largely covering the urban spaces which includes all 1 lakh plus capitals and towns along with the 500 AMRUT cities. Furthermore 10 cities from hill states, islands, and tourist destinations would also be taken up.
Urban Local Bodies(ULB) of the cities are the Project Management Units (PMU) for the scheme. Under the scheme, the ULBs will upskill sanitation workers to operate mechanised cleaning equipment and eliminate manual cleaning of sewer/septic tanks without protective gear. Further expand the social security net by providing work assurance for workers seeking loans and enlarging health insurance coverage under the PM-Jan Arogya Yojana. Conduct a citizen sensitisation and awareness campaign.
Each PMU would be made up of 2-3 professionals who would collaborate with teams from the Swachh Bharat Mission and the National Urban Livelihoods Mission. The project unit would help form Self Help Groups among the sanitation workers along with providing protective gear and machines.
A three tiered implementation-monitoring structure is planned, right from the local bodies to the national Level.
- National NAMASTE Management Unit (NNMU) – Monitor the scheme’s implementation through a robust IT-enabled system, support the City Namaste Management Units and provide various reports to the management. All the more NNMU would devise various reporting and monitoring formats and training modules.
- State NAMASTE Management Unit (SNMU) – The Unit will support the CNMU and will monitor the scheme’s implementation in the State.
- City NAMASTE Management Unit (CNMU) – It will be responsible for enumeration, SHG formation, providing benefits provisioned under NAMASTE to the target group and reporting progress to State/ National Level monitoring units.
The Intended Outcomes of the scheme are to achieve zero fatalities in sanitation work in India. All sanitation work must be done by skilled workers who will have no direct contact with human faeces. Increased awareness among the citizenry to seek services from registered and skilled sanitation workers
The scheme involves institutionalising the workers into Self Help Groups, which are empowered to run enterprises and increase their social benefit coverage. All workers are entitled to pursue alternate livelihoods. The Namaste scheme seeks to increase the visibility of sanitation workers, empower them, and inject dignity into the profession. While working on specialised training, capacity building, and ensuring occupational safety.
In the past decade, India has made noticeable strides in cleanliness and sanitation through the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission. But since SBM mostly led to the construction of toilets, the next natural step would be to do away with dry latrines and have a robust sewage infrastructure that requires no human touch. NAMASTE is a step in the right direction that targets augmenting sanitation infrastructure, dignifying safai mitras, and educating the commons.
- Saraf, B. (2022, January 15). Transforming denial into deliberation: The case of manual scavenging. ThePrint.
- Ahluwalia. (n.d.). Seven years of Swachh Bharat Mission. PRS India
- BAKSHI, Kanoria, & Bhatnagar. (2019, August 19). No progress for sanitation workers: What must change. India Development Review (IDR).
- Sewerage cleaning workers. (2022, August 2). Press Information Bureau.
- National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE). (2022, August 17). Press Information Bureau.
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About the Author
Kushagra Khatri, Research Intern, IMPRI