The Union government on Monday told the Supreme Court that the Cabinet had cleared the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012.

On August 24, the court pulled up the government for its callousness in not enacting a law to ban manual scavenging despite repeated assurances that it would come out with law to eliminate this heinous practice.

The court wanted Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval to take instructions and inform it by today (Monday) whether the Bill would be introduced in this session of Parliament.

During the resumed hearing before a Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad, Mr. Raval submitted that the Cabinet approved the Bill within two days of the last date of hearing. Since the affidavit filed on the last hearing was not accepted by the court as it was vague, the Centre filed a fresh one, giving details about the Cabinet approval.

The ASG said that as per Article 117(1), the Bill had to be introduced in Parliament on the President’s recommendation. He said “once the constitutional authority makes the recommendation, the Bill will be laid on the table of the House.”

In an apparent reference to the logjam in Parliament on the coal blocks issue, he told the court the Bill could not be introduced if there was no session. Since the current session was due to end on September 7, he wanted the court to post the matter to September 7 so that the correct position would be known by then. The Bench, while appreciating the ASG’s efforts in this regard, adjourned the hearing to September 7.

At the last hearing, the court drew the Centre’s attention to the fact that the matter was pending for over a year and asked the ASG: “What action are you taking? This matter has been pending in this court for more than one year. We hear only assurances, but no action seems to have been taken.”

The Bench told the ASG, “You are fooling the people. It is really unfortunate that even 65 years after Independence, manual scavenging should continue in this country. The Directive Principles of State Policy [in the Constitution] mandates us to prohibit manual scavenging but you’re not serious in introducing appropriate legislation.”

The Bench was hearing an appeal by the Union of India against a June 2011 Madras High Court order, stating that if the Centre failed to amend the law to prevent manual scavenging in two months, the court would be constrained to direct the personal appearance of any of the high dignitaries, be it, from the PMO Secretariat or other departments.

On the Centre’s appeal, the Supreme Court stayed the order and issued notice to respondent A. Narayanan of Virugambakkam, Chennai, on whose PIL the High Court issued the directions.

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