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Updated: August 31, 2012 13:40 IST

Blotch on the socialscape

Aarti Dhar
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Illegal work: A sewerage worker manually clears a choked drain. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
The Hindu
Illegal work: A sewerage worker manually clears a choked drain. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2010, to be tabled in Parliament during the current session contains strong punitive measures for non-compliance

More than six decades after India became independent and several laws were enforced to prevent manual scavenging, this dehumanising practice continues. The Constitution also guarantees the right to live with dignity as a Fundamental right whereas Article 46 mandates the state to protect the weaker sections, and particularly the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes from injustice and all forms of exploitation.

But, not much has changed for approximately 13 lakh citizens who are directly or indirectly involved in manual scavenging which is a result of continuation of insanitary latrines, and a deep rooted caste system persisting across the country. Worse, the existing laws have not proved adequate in eliminating the evil.

Manual scavenger means a person engaged or employed by an individual or a local authority or a public or private agency for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an unsanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which human excreta from unsanitary latrines is disposed of. Ironically, Indian Railways and municipalities are the largest employers of manual scavengers.

Finally, the Centre has come up with a new Bill that would ban employment as manual scavengers and also prepare schemes to rehabilitate the existing ones as a measure necessary to correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by them. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2010 is scheduled to be tabled in Parliament during the current session.

The proposed law makes it mandatory that every unsanitary latrine will have to be demolished or converted into sanitary latrines within nine months of the notification of the law. It prohibits any agency or individual from employing manual scavengers and those already in this kind of job — directly or indirectly — will have to be discharged irrespective of any contract, agreement, custom or traditional commitments. The State government will give assistance for conversion of unsanitary latrines into sanitary ones to occupiers of a premise which has more than one owner, but non-receipt of financial assistance will not be a valid reason for continued maintenance or use of an unsanitary latrine, beyond the period of nine months.

If any municipality has reason to believe that some persons are engaged in manual scavenging within its jurisdiction, the authority will get a survey conducted to identify such workers. The content and methodology to be used by the authority will be prescribed or alternately, any individual can also write an application to the authorities concerned saying that he or she is employed as a manual scavenger.

Employing or hiring people for the hazardous job of cleaning of septic tanks and sewers from within one year of the day the Act is notified can attract imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of Rs. 2 lakh for first violation; subsequent violations will attract imprisonment of up to five years and Rs. 5 lakh. No civil court will have jurisdiction in respect of any matter to which any provision of this law applies, and no injunction shall be granted by any civil court in respect of anything, which is done or intended to be done by or under the law.

The National Commission of Safai Karmacharis will monitor the implementation of the Act, while district magistrates will be responsible for implementing and ensuring that there are no insanitary latrines in their jurisdiction. Monitoring will be at various levels; vigilance committees will do the job at the district and sub-divisional level, state monitoring committees will report to the central monitoring committee periodically. The municipalities and panchayats will conduct a survey of the manual scavengers to ascertain the number of persons involved in this profession and bring them under a rehabilitation scheme. Once identified as a manual scavenger, he or she will be given a photo identity card with details of dependent family members; there will be an initial one-time financial assistance and scholarships for children under relevant government schemes; the government will provide a residential plot and financial assistance to construct a house or provide a built house under the scheme run by the Centre or State government, or even local authorities.

Sanitary workers or one family member will be imparted training in skill development and entitled to a stipend of Rs. 3,000 during the training period. They will also be eligible for subsidy and concessional loans to start their own alternative occupation on a sustainable basis

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