The Karnataka government has notified the setting up of a three-tier vigilance system for effective implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
While a monitoring committee, headed by the Social Welfare Minister, will oversee implementation of the Act at the State-level, there will be district vigilance committees and sub-divisional vigilance committees, to be monitored by the deputy commissioners and sub-division magistrates, respectively.
The State committee is to meet at least once in six months and advice the State government and local authorities for effective implementation of the Act. It is to coordinate the functions of all agencies concerned, including the urban development and panchayat raj institutions. The district and sub-divisional committees are to meet once in three months.
Meanwhile, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Development Corporation Ltd. has entrusted the task of preparing a comprehensive package for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers in Karnataka to the National Law School of India University (NLSIU). In a letter to the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, NLSIU, the corporation has said that the package has to be designed after a survey of the households of manual scavengers. Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti has also been consulted on the modalities.Rehabilitation efforts
The Central legislation was passed in 2013 to “provide for the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families.”
The three-tier vigilance system being set up in Karnataka to implement it is aimed to ensure that “no person, local authority or any agency shall, engage or employ either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank in the entire State of Karnataka.” The State’s notification says that “hazardous cleaning” in relation to a sewer or septic tank means manual cleaning without protective gear and safety precautions.
While the formation of the vigilance mechanism is being seen as a positive move, the issue of “safety” is contentious, say activists. T.K. Dayanand, a researcher at the NLSIU, who is working on a project on manual scavengers, said that continuing the practice cannot be justified even with protective gear and safety measures. “This is a contradiction in the Central legislation itself,” Mr. Dayanand said. He added that the so-called “safety gear” rarely goes beyond rubber gloves.
Though Karnataka has an elaborate ‘Safety manual for workers involved in underground drainage/septic tanks construction and maintenance’, applicable to all urban local bodies (notified in 2013), there have been several instances of its violation even in the State capital.