The Manual Scavenging Bill-2012 (A Critical Analysis)

The Manual Scavenging Bill - 2012 (A Critical Analysis)

Manual Scavenging BillThe Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill-2012 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2012 with a commitment of removing the historically iniquitous, caste-ordained practice of manually handing human waste. The Bill has been placed by the Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment with an intention of privileging not sanitation for public, but justice, equality and dignity of the sanitation workers.

In order to remove the inhuman practice of manual scavenging from the Indian society, the Bill suggests the following provisions

(i) The Bill suggests that every insanitary latrine will be either demolished or converted into Sanitary one. An insanitary latrine is defined as one where the excreta is manually handled before its complete decomposition either in situ or in an open drain or a pit into which it is discharged.
(ii) It suggests that those employed in this job, either directly or indirectly will have to be discharged from their duty irrespective of any agreement or contract. It also prohibits any agency and individual from employing Manual Scavengers in future.
(iii) As per the draft of the Bill, it prohibits the employment or hiring of the people for the hazardous job of clearing of septic tanks and servers, from within one year of the day the act is notified. first time violation of the same can attract imprisonment upto two years and a fine of Rs. 2 lakh. Further violation of the Act will attract imprisonment of upto 5 years and a fine of Rs. 5 lakh.

As per the draft of the Bill, the government or the local agencies will help in the conversion of insanitary latrines into the sanitary ones within nine months of the notification of the Act. But non-receipt of assistance for the purpose will be no reason for continuation of insanitary latrines, failing which the local authorities will demolish the structure and the occupiers will have to bear the cost, in the manner prescribed in the Rules.

(iv) Violation by any means of the provision will attract imprisonment upto one year and a fine of Rs. 50000 for the first offence and subsequent violators will attract imprisonment of up to 2 years and fine of Rs. 1 lakh. The offences will be cognisable and non-bailable and tried by an Executive Magistrate.

Provisions for Monitoring will be as follows

(i) The municipalities and panchayats will conduct a survey of the manual scavengers to ensure the number of persons employed in this profession and to bring them under the rehabilitation scheme. The vigilance committees will do the job at the district & sub-divisional level, while the district magistrates will be responsible for the implementation and to ensure that there are no insanitary latrines in their jurisdiction. The state monitoring committees will report to the central monitoring committee on a periodic basis and The National Commission of Safai Karmachar’s will be responsible for monitoring the overall implementation of the Act.

(ii) Once identified as a manual scavenger, the person will be given a photo identity card having the details of dependent family members, and there will be an initial one time financial assistance and scholarship for children under various government schemes. Also the government will provide a residential plot along with financial assistance to construct a house or provide a built house under the scheme run by the Central or State government or local authorities.

(iii) Sanitary workers or one family members will be imparted training in skill development and he/she would be given a stipend of Rs. 3000 during the training period. They will also be provided concessional loans to initiate their own alternative occupation on a sustainable basis.

However, the new Bill may be appreciated for its commitment towards the abolition of the social evil, but it gives a contrasting picture when compared to the 2011 Draft titled Total Liberation, Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Humanization of working conditions Act-2011.

Firstly, the new Bill dilutes the significance of the clause that prohibits the employment of person for hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks. It selectively mandates that a person handling excreta with the help of “Protective gear,” shall not be deemed as a manual scavenger. This is problematic in so far as such “protective gear becomes a mediating technology that helps sustain, if not perpetuate, the employment of person for hazardous cleaning. It contradicts the stated intention of rehabilitating these workers out of such dehumanizing squalor.

Secondly, unlike the 2011 Draft which proposes to provide pension to the elderly manual scavengers and directs the Ministry of Railways to set aside a quota to absorb ex-scavengers as railway catering staff, the new Bill conceives rehabilitation to be targeted and subject to eligibility based on identification surveys in rural and urban areas. It proposes that final lists of urban manual scavengers born out of the survey be displayed publicly to invite objections from public, further dictating inclusion or exclusion of persons. This is akin to a public pillory, believes independent law research or Dr. Usha Ramanatha, exposing the workers to public scorn and ridicule, for fear that few extra might get rehabilitated.

And, the government is relying on the MORD’s Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011, for identification of manual scavengers in rural India, which is already under criticism by the Right to food activists for its insensitive methodology and high likelihood for exclusion errors in identifying BPL families.

In a nutshell, it can be concluded that the rehabilitation of the manual scavengers is a laudable feature of the new Bill, but it will have to adopt a strict and focussed strategy of prohibition and rehabilitation both. Because dispite the presence of “1993 Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, there has not been even a single conviction and till date the inhuman practice of manual scavenging is prevailing in the society. Therefore achieving one goal will not be possible without achieving the other one.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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