Funds for scholarships to children of manual scavengers remain under-utilised; discriminatory rules exclude sewer workers of benefits

Editor's note: This is part of a seven-part series on manual scavenging in India. It examines the practice from a socio-political point of view.


The Government of India initiated the "Pre-Matric Scholarship to the Children of those engaged in ‘Unclean’ Occupations", a centrally sponsored scheme dedicated to children of those who are engaged in occupations involving cleaning and prone to health hazards in 1977-78 under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Later, a series of changes were made to the scheme and was renamed as ‘Pre-Matric Scholarships to the Children of those engaged in occupations involving Cleaning and Prone to Health Hazards’.

The Union Government provides 100 percent central assistance to all states/UTs for the total expenditure under the scheme which is over and above the states' share to implement the scheme. In the year 2018, the rate of scholarship was enhanced by 50 percent and continued the programme from 2017-2018 to 2019-2020. The scheme is far more progressive and provided for special assistance to those families whose children have disabilities and affected by diseases. The table below enlists the components of the scheme.

SL No Component of Scheme Rates
(in rupees)
1 Monthly Scholarship (10 months) Class Day Scholar Hostellers
1-10 225 -
3-10 - 700
2 Annual Ad-hoc Grant (rupees per annum) Day Scholars 750
Hostellers 1000
3 Additional assistance for Target groups with Disabilities. It applies to leprosy cured students except for reader allowance. These students can get additional benefits from other schemes not covered in this scheme. Reader Allowance for blind students in Classes III-X 100 per month
Transport allowance for disabled students studying outside the hostel premises 50 per month
Special pay for a helper who helps a student who is severely orthopedically handicapped in hostels 100 per month
Extra coaching to mentally retarded& ill students in Class III-X 100 per month
Escort allowance for severely handicapped 50 per month
4 Funding Pattern 100% of state expenditure over and above their committed liability
Data Source: Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, MSJE


The primary concern regarding the scheme is about the eligibility group listed by the government which include persons who are manual scavengers and those engaged in hazardous cleaning as defined under sections 2(1) (g) and 2(1) (d) of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (hereafter MS Act 2013) as tanners and flayers, and waste pickers, respectively.

Though the government changed the nomenclature by removing the term ‘unclean’, the scheme has not brought in any far-reaching impact on the lives of these marginalised workers. One cannot deny the fact that these 'unclean' caste-based occupations are performed by the Dalits as other castes consider such activities ‘impure and polluting’.

 Funds for scholarships to children of manual scavengers remain under-utilised; discriminatory rules exclude sewer workers of benefits

Representational image. AFP.

The scheme has also not expanded its reach to other occupations which are equally menial, degrading and hazardous such as sewer and septic tank workers, sweepers and toilet cleaners who are in dire need of state assistance, especially to empower their children to achieve social and economic mobility. Further exclusion of the most excluded groups denies them the basic fundamental rights and legal entitlements.

In the case of sewer or septic tank workers who are provided with protective gear and cleaning devices under rule 1(g) read with rule 4 of the ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013’ (hereafter MS Rules 2013) are not covered under the definition of manual scavengers as it is assumed that they do not engage in hazardous cleaning as defined under Section (1)(d) of the MS Act 2013, read with rule 1(g) of MS Rules 2013.

It cannot be denied that the sewer and septic tank workers are engaged in a hazardous job and limited to the rules of whether or not they are wearing protective gears. Cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and others employ sewer workers on both permanent and on a contract basis, who work without any proper protective gears and safety devices; when protective gears are provided, they are always in limited numbers or of poor quality. Over the years, there have been unprecedented deaths and accidents of sewer and septic tank workers in the country. In most cases, such incidents do not get reported due to state negligence. The new law directs the states to mechanise sewer and septic tank cleaning but states have failed to implement it on the ground. The data compiled by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis has recorded 676 sewer death cases from 1993 to 2018 which is an underestimation.

The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment in its 50th report relating to the Demands for Grants, 2018-19 of Department of Social Justice and Empowerment (DSJE) studied the implementation of the ‘Pre-Matric Scholarships to the Children of those engaged in occupations involving Cleaning and Prone to Health Hazards’. The committee noted that the crucial scheme was not implemented well. It also noted that majority states have failed to identify the eligible children under the scheme, thus denying them of the only scheme which can educationally empower the children of the most marginalised section of the society. Further, it pointed out that in most cases state contribution to the scheme itself is under-utilised; hence states do not seek for central funds. The table below shows a decrease in central funds.

Budget Estimate, Revised Estimate and Expenditure of 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and Budget Estimate of 2018-19
(Rs in crore)
Programmes/Scheme 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Budget Estimate Revised Estimate Expenditure Budget Estimate Revised Estimate Expenditure. Budget Estimate Revised Estimate Expenditure (as on 31 January, 2018) Budget Estimate
Pre-Matric Scholarship for the children of those engaged occupations involving cleaning and prone to health hazards 10.00 2.50 2.42 2.00 1.00 1.88 2.70 2.70 0.35 5.00
Data Source: Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, MSJE


DSJE highlights that between 2014-15 and 2017-18, only few States have taken central assistance, including Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Uttrakhand and West Bengal. However, there's no data to show who has benefited from this scheme. The Department assured the committee that they expect better execution through National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) which is currently made the nodal agency for this scheme.

It is important to note that the states/UTs have repeatedly failed to identify manual scavengers engaged in cleaning dry latrines, due to which the benefits have not reached them, even though they are eligible under the scheme.

The committee urged the DSJE to pursue the states/UTs to find new avenues to implement this scheme more effectively by creating more awareness so that more number of candidates are selected to avail scholarship under this scheme. It also observed that the children who are eligible but are not identified would not be able to avail the scholarship from any other educational scheme of the DSJE such as the Pre-Matric Scholarships for SC/ST and others.

The Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan in its recent fact-finding report on deaths of the sewer and septic tank workers found that none of the victim’s family received any scholarship for their children under this scheme because sewer workers are not identified as a beneficiary under the scheme.

As part of my doctoral work, I observed that the sewer workers are not entitled to any kind of benefits especially programmes related to educational assistance for their children even though they have been demanding that the state lend their support to address their needs. It was also observed that majority of sewer and septic tank workers send their children to private or aided schools to give them quality education making them spend more from their income which is low and insufficient.

In this regard the I had also sought the help of the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Karnataka, and the Karnataka State Commission for Safai Karamcharis to initiate a process for recommending to the central government to modify the scheme to include the sewer workers. In the process, it was felt to include other workers who engage in ‘unclean’ occupations but are currently left out, as beneficiaries, through a formal proposal that can go from the state government for suitable modification of the scheme and effective utilisation of funds.

The scheme is comprehensive and will have a significant impact on the lives of the families who are engaged in these occupations and empower them through formal education so that their children can find new avenues and opportunities instead of making these caste-based occupations.

The author is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru  University, New Delhi

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 19:51:39 IST