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CITATION1 Writ Petition (Civil) No. 583 Of 2003
COURTSupreme Court of India
APPELLANTSafai Karamchari Andolan & Ors.
RESPONDENTUnion of India & Ors.  
BENCHChief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice N.V. Ramana


Despite a 1993 ban on manual scavenging, the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry reports 620 cases of sanitation workers dying (while cleaning septic tanks and sewers), 88 of which occurred in the last three years until 2019. In a writ petition filed by Safai Karamchari Andolan, the court ordered that the families of all people who died in sewerage work since 1993 be awarded Rs.10 lakhs in compensation for each such death. The Court also ordered all state governments and union territories to enact legislation to end manual scavenging.


  • The cruel and degrading act of manually clearing night soil, which entails the removal of human waste from dry toilets using bare hands, brooms, or metal tools, and then transporting it in baskets to disposal sites, still persists in various regions of the country.
  • While surveys conducted by some petitioner organizations estimate that there are more than 1.2 million manual scavengers engaged in this degrading practice nationwide, the official statistics released by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for the year 2002-2003 indicate that there were 676,009 identified manual scavengers. Shockingly, over 95% of these individuals belong to the Dalit community (those belonging to scheduled castes) and are forced to carry out this degrading task under the pretext of a “traditional occupation.
  • The Indian government created a program called the ‘Low-Cost Sanitation for the Freedom of Scavengers’ in 1989-90. This centrally funded initiative is aimed at eradicating manual scavenging by transforming existing dry toilets into affordable water pour flush toilets and by constructing new hygienic latrines.
  • To eradicate manual scavenging, the ‘National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents’ was initiated in March 1992. In 1993, the Parliament passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, which was approved by the President on June 5, 1993. The Act, described in its comprehensive title, aims to ban the employment of manual scavengers, the construction or continuation of dry toilets, and regulate the construction and upkeep of water-seal latrines, along with related or incidental matters.
  • In 2003, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted a report assessing the ‘National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents’. The report’s findings indicated that, despite more than a decade of implementation and an investment exceeding Rs. 600 crores, the scheme “did not succeed in meeting its goals.” Additionally, the report highlighted that although funds were allocated for the scheme’s implementation, a significant portion remained unspent or underutilized.
  • In December 2003, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, six other civil society organizations, and seven individuals from the manual scavenging community collectively lodged a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. Their petition was based on the assertion that the ongoing practice of manual scavenging, along with the use of dry latrines, is unlawful and unconstitutional. They argued that these practices infringe upon the fundamental rights protected under Articles 14, 17, 21, and 23 of the Constitution of India, as well as the regulations outlined in the 1993 Act.


  • Why does India continue to grapple with the caste system, particularly evident in professions like manual scavenging?
  • What strategies can be implemented to generate alternative job prospects for these marginalized laborers?
  • Despite the enactment of laws, why does this issue persist without being completely eliminated?


By the Appellant:

The petitioners brought a writ petition before the Court in 2003, seeking various measures:

  • Complete elimination of Dry Latrines.
  • Declaration that the continuation of manual scavenging and operation of Dry Latrines violate Constitutional Articles 14, 17, 21, and 23, as well as the 1993 Act.
  • Directing authorities to adopt and implement the Act and create detailed, time-bound plans to eradicate manual scavenging and rehabilitate those involved.
  • Instructing the Union of India and State Governments to issue necessary directives to local bodies for strict implementation of the Act and to prosecute violators.
  • Requiring the submission of periodic Compliance Reports as directed by the Court.

By the Respondent:

The government, in response, drew the court’s attention to the new 2013 legislation that addressed the gaps in the 1993 act. The key aspects of the 2013 law define terms such as ‘manual scavenger,’ ‘insanitary latrine,’ and ‘hazardous cleaning.’ Furthermore, the legislation instructs local authorities to conduct a survey of insanitary latrines and ensure the provision of hygienic community latrines. It strictly prohibits the construction of dry latrines and the employment of individuals as manual scavengers. The law also includes provisions for rehabilitating individuals previously or currently engaged in manual scavenging, whose names are listed under the act.


The Court noted that the practices of manual scavenging and the construction of dry latrines were still prevalent across the country and had not ceased. In response, the Court issued the following directives:

  • The government was directed to promptly rehabilitate manual scavengers listed under the Act.
  • Amendments to the act were recommended to include specific provisions for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, encompassing aspects like sewer deaths, the use of individuals as manual scavengers by the railways, timely rehabilitation, and compensation for manual scavengers. Additionally, support for women safai karamcharis to choose their livelihood was emphasized.
  • The compensation, as determined by the Court, should include one-time cash assistance, scholarships for the education of their children, provision of a residential plot with financial aid for construction, job training with a monthly stipend, subsidy and loans for a family member to pursue sustainable alternative employment, and a compensation of 10 lakhs for scavengers who lost their lives during sewer work. The rehabilitation process should align with principles of natural justice.
  • The governments of states and union territories were also instructed to ensure full compliance with the provisions of the Act.


This case stands as a pivotal milestone in acknowledging the rights of manual scavengers and the imperative need to dismantle existing dry latrines while prohibiting their future construction. The Court’s proactive role is evidenced through the inclusion of the four specified categories for rehabilitation, augmenting existing cases. Moreover, the Court acknowledges the utilization of manual scavengers by entities such as the Indian Railways and other public bodies, and sternly addresses this issue. The second facet of the judgment pertains to the rehabilitation measures mandated by the Court, emphasizing the expeditious execution in compliance with the principles of natural justice and transformative action.


This Article is written by Aastha Srivastava, a 3rd Year LL.B student of DES Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.


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