The Union Budget 2023-2024 has allocated nearly Rs 100 crore for the National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE) Scheme, a central government initiative to ensure the safety and dignity of sanitation workers across India. The NAMASTE Scheme, approved with a total outlay of Rs. 360 crores for the four-year period from 2022-23 to 2025-26, aims to achieve 100% mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers in all urban local bodies (ULBs).
The government’s focus on enhancing occupational safety and providing sustainable livelihoods for sanitation workers includes capacity building, improved access to safety gear and machines, and the promotion of behaviour change among citizens. With the recent allocation of funds, the process of extending the NAMASTE Scheme to all ULBs across the country has been initiated, targeting 500 cities under the AMRUT Scheme. This move is expected to benefit numerous sanitation workers and is an important topic for the IAS exam.
What is NAMASTE Scheme?
NAMASTE Scheme – an initiative that’s sweeping the nation with a wave of change. Just like the warm, traditional Indian greeting it’s named after, the NAMASTE Scheme brings together compassion and progress for the betterment of our society. As a UPSC aspirant, you’ll find this topic to be an important and relevant one to study, so let’s unfold the layers of this transformative policy.
Launched in 2022, the National Action for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem (NAMASTE) is a joint effort by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). This noble initiative strives to uplift and safeguard the lives of sanitation workers across urban India, turning the tide in favour of their safety, dignity, and well-being.
In the coming sections, we’ll embark on a journey through the NAMASTE Scheme’s objectives, key features, implementation, and expected outcomes. As you venture deeper into this enlightening topic, you’ll discover the power of change that lies within well-designed and well-executed policies. So, buckle up and join us as we explore the transformative potential of the NAMASTE Scheme and its impact on the lives of the unsung heroes of our sanitation workforce.
Objectives of the NAMASTE Scheme
- Zero fatalities in sanitation work: Ensuring the safety of sanitation workers and putting an end to life-threatening hazards they face.
- Skilled workers perform all sanitation work: Transforming the workforce through capacity building, training, and skill development.
- No direct contact with human faecal matter: Leveraging technology and mechanization to eliminate the need for direct contact with waste.
- Sanitation workers collectivized into SHGs: Empowering workers by forming Self Help Groups and enabling them to run their own sanitation enterprises.
- Access to alternative livelihoods for all Sewer and Septic Tank sanitation workers (SSWs): Broadening the horizon of opportunities and breaking free from the shackles of traditional occupations.
- Strengthened supervisory and monitoring systems at national, state, and ULB levels: Enhancing the enforcement and monitoring of safe sanitation practices.
- Increased awareness amongst sanitation services seekers: Encouraging individuals and institutions to seek services from registered and skilled sanitation workers.
Key Features of the NAMASTE Scheme
- Enumeration: Identifying Sewer/Septic Tank Workers (SSWs) engaged in hazardous cleaning operations, conducted by City NAMASTE Managers and validated by concerned ULBs.
- Occupational training and distribution of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits: Ensuring workers are well-equipped with the skills and gear necessary for safe operations.
- Assistance for safety devices to SRUs (Sanitation Response Units): Providing support for obtaining essential safety equipment.
- Extending Insurance Scheme benefits: Covering identified SSWs and their families under Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY).
- Livelihood Assistance: Promoting mechanization and enterprise development through funding support and subsidies from the National Safai Karamchari Financial Development Corporation (NSKFDC).
- Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) Campaigns: Spreading awareness through joint efforts by ULBs and NSKFDC.
Implementation of the NAMASTE Scheme
Embarking on this transformative journey, the NAMASTE Scheme has charted a strategic course of action to turn its ambitious objectives into tangible realities. Through a well-orchestrated symphony of cooperation, coordination, and commitment, the various stakeholders will strive to achieve a safer and more dignified work environment for sanitation workers across urban India. Let’s delve into the intricacies of this finely-tuned implementation strategy, exploring its various layers and dimensions.
Selection of Cities
- Coverage: 500 cities, converging with the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) cities.
- Eligible Cities: Cities and towns with a population of over one lakh, including notified Municipalities and Cantonment Boards; all Capital Cities/Towns of States/Union Territories; ten Cities from hill states, islands, and tourist destinations (not more than one from each State).
National NAMASTE Management Unit
- Implementing Agency: National Safai Karamchari Financial Development Corporation (NSKFDC).
- Joint Initiative: MoSJE and MoHUA, with a dedicated national team.
- National NAMASTE Monitoring Unit (NNMU): Headed by the Managing Director, NSKFDC, reporting to the concerned Division head in the MoSJE, Government of India.
- Technical Support Unit (TSU): A team of IT professionals, experts in program implementation, SHG experts, IEC experts, banking experts, etc., established to support the implementation of NAMASTE and facilitate coordination between MoSJE and MoHUA.
State NAMASTE Management Unit
- Designation: The state Government is to appoint a suitable officer as the State NAMASTE Director to head the State NAMASTE Management Unit (SNMU).
- Selection: The officer may be from SBM, NULM, AMRUT, the ULB, or any other relevant Department of the State.
City NAMASTE Monitoring Unit
- Project Management Unit (PMU): An implementation body at the city level, organized in clusters of municipalities as City NAMASTE Monitoring Units (CNMUs) to coincide with the SBM clusters.
- Financing: The Action Plan’s financing shall be leveraged under the Schemes of MoHUA (SBM and DAY-NULM), particularly for interventions such as SHG formation of core sanitation workers, PPE procurement and distribution, safety devices and equipment procurement, occupational safety training and skilling for SEPs & Duty Supervisors, and providing work assurance to sanitation workers interested in availing Sanitation Related Projects.
What is Manual Scavenging?
Manual scavenging, a deeply dehumanizing and hazardous practice, has been a persistent issue in various parts of the world, particularly in India. The term manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters, and sewers.” It is a practice that has severe consequences for the health, dignity, and social status of those involved.
In an effort to eradicate manual scavenging, the Indian government enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSR), 2013. This Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice” and seeks to put an end to it.
Key aspects of manual scavenging
- Defined under Section 2 (1)(g) of the PEMSR Act as the lifting of human excreta from insanitary latrines.
- Not limited to dry latrines but also includes cleaning sewers, septic tanks, and railway tracks.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India took a significant step towards addressing the issue of manual scavenging:
- Directed that the families of all individuals who had lost their lives in sewerage work (such as manholes and septic tanks) since 1993 should be identified.
- For each death, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh (approximately $13,000) must be provided to the deceased’s family.
Despite the legal ban and the Supreme Court’s directives, manual scavenging continues to be a challenge in some regions of India. To successfully eradicate this practice, a comprehensive approach is required:
- Address social discrimination associated with manual scavenging.
- Improve sanitation infrastructure to eliminate the need for manual scavenging.
- Provide alternative livelihoods for those engaged in manual scavenging.
By taking these measures, the government can not only protect the health and dignity of these individuals but also help break the cycle of poverty and marginalization that has afflicted their communities for generations.
In conclusion, the NAMASTE Scheme stands as a beacon of hope and empowerment for the often-overlooked sanitation workers, who tirelessly toil behind the scenes to keep our urban spaces clean and hygienic. Like a master storyteller weaving a tapestry of transformative change, the scheme paints a picture of a future where dignity, safety, and opportunity are no longer distant dreams for these unsung heroes, but tangible realities within their grasp.
As the sun sets on the age of discrimination and inhumane working conditions, a new dawn of enlightenment and awareness emerges through the NAMASTE Scheme. The initiative infuses a sense of purpose and determination in our collective efforts to rewrite the narratives of countless sanitation workers, breaking the shackles of intergenerational cycles and lifting them towards a future of dignity and self-sufficiency.
The NAMASTE Scheme serves as a poignant reminder that it is our collective responsibility to uplift and empower those who work tirelessly in the shadows, away from the limelight. As we embark on this journey towards a more just and equitable society, let us stand in solidarity with our sanitation workers, extending our gratitude and support as they continue to be the unseen architects of a cleaner, healthier, and safer India.
In the spirit of the NAMASTE Scheme, let us fold our hands in a gesture of gratitude, respect, and unity, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of our sanitation workers, and pledge to work together in creating an ecosystem where they can truly thrive. After all, it is only when the least visible among us are uplifted that the true essence of a harmonious and inclusive society can be realized, echoing the timeless adage: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”