A Bill seeking to prohibit employment of individuals as manual scavengers by prescribing stringent punishment, including imprisonment up to five years, was passed by Parliament on Saturday. It has provisions for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their family members as well.

The Bill has a wider scope for higher penalties than what was provided under the 1993 Act. Offences under the Bill are cognisable and non-bailable and may be tried summarily. The Bill, which received a strong push from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and seeks to wipe out the “social stigma” by arranging for alternative jobs and offering other provisions to those in such work and their families, got the unanimous approval of the Rajya Sabha on Saturday. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on Friday.

Moving the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2013 in the Upper House, Minister for Social Justice Kumari Selja said the earlier Act did not prove very effective. Under the new law, each occupier of an insanitary latrine is responsible for converting or demolishing it at his own cost. If he fails to do so, the local authority will convert the latrine and recover the cost from him. Each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority are responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within their jurisdiction. “Such latrines, where manual scavenging happens, will have to be demolished; otherwise somebody will be engaged to do it,” Ms. Selja said, adding the government would chip in with financial help. “Despite prohibition of manual scavenging, the practice is still prevalent... This dehumanising practice is inconsistent with the right to live with dignity,” Ms. Selja said. Members from the Left including D. Raja (CPI) moved a number of amendments which were, however, negated.

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