No To Manual Scavenging
At the very outset, I must mention explicitly that after being prodded by the Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council (NAC), the UPA government led by PM Dr Manmohan Singh has made up its mind to enact a new, stricter law in the monsoon session of Parliament to completely exterminate manual scavenging which has become a Frankenstein monster for a long time. Here I must mention emphatically that this latest UPA government’s move comes after the findings in the latest census figures depicted that at least 0.3 % of India’s 247 million households manual scavengers are still engaged in it. This certainly deserves complete and unstinted backing and we too within our individual capacity must contribute our best to helping in eradicating this menace afflicting our nation for a long time.
For the readers’ benefit, I must mention here that employing people for manual scavenging and cleaning of septic tanks and sewers will invite a very hefty penalty once the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 is passed. It must also be mentioned here that this Bill that seeks to prohibit employment as sanitary workers is to be tabled in Parliament in the Monsoon Session. Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik unequivocally stated that, “Apart from expanding the definition of manual scavenging, the new law will enable survey, rehabilitation programmes, fix responsibility on officials and provide stronger penal provisions.” He also further revealed that the draft had been circulated to the state governments for their feedbacks.
The proposed Bill minces no words making it absolutely clear that every insanitary latrine will have to be demolished or converted into sanitary latrines within nine months of the notification of the law. Any violation of this provision will attract imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of Rs 50,000 for the first offence but subsequent violations will attract imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of one lakh rupees. The offences will be cognizable and non bailable and tried by an Executive Magistrate.
I must add further that in this Bill, insanitary latrine is defined where excreta is cleaned or manually handled before complete decomposition either in situ or in an open drain or a pit into which excreta is discharged or flushed. The Bill very categorically prohibits any agency or individual from employing manual scavengers and those already in this kind of a job whether directly or indirectly will have to be discharged irrespective of any contract, agreement, custom or traditional commitments. Even though we don’t have precise data available on the number of people involved in this kind of work, one has to reckon with the indisputable fact that manual scavenging is widely prevalent in India and even municipalities are not lagging behind too far in hiring people for cleaning septic tanks.
Here, we must also pay attention to the vital fact that even as the government spared no effort to try to check the practice of manual scavenging by March 2010, the latest 2011 census conducted recently very specifically brought out the bare facts that human excreta is manually cleaned in at least 7, 94, 390 dry toilets in the country which certainly is not encouraging from any parameter. It must also be pointed out here that as far as the states are concerned, Jammu and Kashmir has the highest rate 10.7% of manual scavenging in households. Even in big states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, things are no way better , they too have a very high rate but at the same time I must point out here that some big states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been able to abolish the manual scavenging completely.
The National Commission of Safai Karmacharis have been vested with the onerous responsibility of monitoring the effective implementation of the Act and District Magistrates have been made responsible for implementing and ensuring that there are no insanitary latrines in their respective jurisdiction. It has also been provided that 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 then conduct a survey of the manual scavengers to determine 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 independent family members. There will be an initial one time financial assistance and scholarships for children under relevant government schemes. Also, 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. The Bill stipulates that 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 for up to two years and a fine of Rs two lakh for first violation and subsequent violations will incur imprisonment for up to five years and five lakh rupees.
It is the bounden duty of the government to make this proposed Bill into a law at the earliest. It cannot be oblivious to the fact that just in March 2012, it had assured the Supreme Court that appropriate steps would soon be taken to end manual scavenging by amending the existing Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 law and inserting in a new comprehensive law for total emancipation of sanitary workers who are engaged in any form of manual scavenging. Let’s hope for the best!
By Sanjeev Sirohi