The Centre on Tuesday decided to amend the rules of the legislation that outlaws manual scavenging, to make it mandatory for contractors to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the families of those who die while cleaning sewers or septic tanks, The Indian Express reported. This amount is in addition to the Rs 10 lakh the state government is liable to pay in all such cases of death.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment made the decision at a meeting to review the implementation of the law banning manual scavenging. Data presented at Tuesday’s meeting, charied by Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, showed that states have reported around 13,000 manual scavengers, and only seven states have paid compensation for deaths in the past 25 years.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the ministry noted that “response by states has been very unsatisfactory”. While the seven states that compensated families reported 270 deaths, the Safai Karmachari Andolan estimated 1,560 deaths since 1993 – the year manual scavenging was outlawed.

Moreover, to redress the under-reporting of manual scavenging cases, the Centre has decided to conduct a nationwide survey to determine the extent of the practice. The National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation has six months to conduct the survey, covering 15 major states, to determine the number of workers who manually cleaning dry latrines, open drains, pits, railway tracks, septic tanks and sewers.

Safai Karmachari Andolan convener Bezwada Wilson expressed scepticism about the proposed survey. “The corporation would still be dependent on those very states that have until now denied the existence of this practice,” he said. “Also, the government has no mandate to demand data from the Railways, which is one of the largest employers of manual scavengers but refuses to acknowledge a single case.”