The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed serious concern at the inordinate delay in Parliament passing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill. A Bench of Justices H.L. Datu and Ranjan Gogoi shared the concern of counsel Santosh Paul and counsel Meera Mathew, appearing for A. Narayanan, and told Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati: “We are very much concerned about this issue.”

The Bench said: “they [manual scavengers] are marginalised and Parliament needs to take adequate steps to pass the Bill. It had been over a year and half that the Additional Solicitor-General has been promising to do something. We need a proper reply.”

Earlier, respondent counsel submitted that nearly 19 manual scavengers died in the course of their work in Tamil Nadu alone. Even after the filing of this appeal, three sessions of Parliament had gone — the winter session 2011, 2012 monsoon and winter sessions — however, the Bill was “just” pending. The AG said that “after the introduction of Bill, the Standing Committee of Social Justice and Empowerment had one hearing on November 1, 2012 and the next meeting is scheduled for January 11. The committee would expedite the proceedings.” He assured the court that within three months he would also review the Bill and make adequate changes like widening the scope of definition of “Manual Scavenger.”

Mr. Vahanvati submitted that unlike the Act of 1993, the new Bill would be under Entry 97 of the Constitution. Therefore, by the virtue of this new Bill, it would be mandatory for all States to abide by the provisions.

When respondent counsel submitted that those manual scavengers “who die before the passing of the Bill should be given some consideration as the new Bill has the provision of ‘rehabilitation’,” the Bench said “these matters would be dealt with after the passing of the Bill. First let the Bill be passed. Then we would look into the matters.”

The Bench directed the mater to be listed after three months.

The judges were hearing an appeal by the Union of India against a June 2011 Madras High Court order that if the Centre failed to amend the law to prevent manual scavenging 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 appeal by the Centre, the Supreme Court stayed the order and issued notice to respondent Mr. Narayanan of Virugambakkam, Chennai, on whose PIL the High Court issued the directions.