Since times immemorial the humiliating practice of Manual Scavengers has been prevalent in our society. The Constitution also guarantees the right to live with dignity as a fundamental right, along with the protection of the weaker sections of the society, especially the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, through Article 46. However, for obvious reasons majority of people employed in the inhuman practice of manually cleaning unsanitary latrines belong to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, thus sanctioning the discrimination and strengthening the base of caste system in our country.
Manual scavengers are people involved in cleaning or removal of human excreta from unsanitary latrines. Reportedly, Indian Railways employs the highest number of Manual Scavengers.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2010, is scheduled to be tabled and discussed in the Parliament, thus making attempts to rehabilitate the sanitary conditions in the country and also towards working for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society to prevent them from getting employed in such illegal and hazardous jobs.
However, to our government reservation bills appear more important than actually doing something for the upliftment of these people. Reservation will only widen the gap and we might end up going in the reverse direction.
The above stated law makes it mandatory for every municipality area to demolish or convert the insanitary latrines into sanitary latrine system within nine months of the notification and implementation of the law. The Bill strictly prohibits agencies and individuals to employ any person under any circumstances into working as Manual Scavenger, either directly or indirectly.
If anyone is found involved in this kind of job, it will attract an imprisonment of two years and a fine of about 2 lakhs. If they further keep violating the Act and the Bill, the punishment becomes severe with five year imprisonment and penalty of five lakhs.
The law and policy to protect the interests of the weaker sections will also put forward the point of discharging the people who are employed as Manual Scavengers from any contract or agreement based on any custom, needful or traditional commitments. Assistance from the State Government will be with effect from the implementation of the law, wherein all kind of necessary finance and technical support would be given to all those agencies, individuals and municipalities to get their insanitary latrine system converted to a proper systematic latrine system.
Also, every agency and individual would have to ensure that they get the assistance from the State Government as it becomes a compulsion them to install a proper sanitary latrine system, and any non-receipt of financial assistance as a reason for the continuation of maintenance of insanitary latrine and drainage system will not be entertained, after a period of nine months from the implementation of the law.
A thorough survey would be conducted by the jurisdiction in their municipality in case of any doubt arises related to the employment of people in cleaning of these septic tanks. Any agency, municipality and person is free to write and give in an application in case they get aware of any person working as a manual scavenger and report the same to the jurisdiction of that area.
To look after the implementation of this Act, the National Commission of Safai Karmcharis’ would be monitoring the effectiveness of this Act, with district magistrates as the final decision makers in their respective areas to take any action against those who lure people into such hazardous jobs and make them helpless and non-productive for any other job in future.
A rehabilitation scheme is expected to be coming out soon after the municipalities and panchayats conduct a survey in their own areas and know the severity and statistics of the Manual Scavengers, and take any action against those agencies, if need be.
Such jobs only humiliate and hurt self-respect of a person, yet people are still employed because of the fragile economic status of weaker sections of our society. The problems of poverty and caste discrimination have not only widened the gap of fundamental rights but also restricted a particular segment of our society to cleaning latrines only.
There was and there has always been a need for an implementation of the Act which has actually come into the discussion now. Apart from stating the problems of working in such hazardous conditions, the people who are once identified as manual scavengers would be given complete assistance and their families will be supported with jobs.
Also, the identified person will be encouraged to participate in their training development program where they are imparted knowledge and skills to work in better jobs, also providing them with a stipend of Rs. 3000 during the training period. To support their family, the illegally employed people would be given a residential plot to either construct their own house or stay in a house provided by the authorities of the Central and State government.
It’s high time we start taking care of our brothers and sisters because what our ancestors did was their mistake. If we turn a blind eye and not do anything for the underprivileged, we would be giving nothing but a divided society to our coming generations.
Writer is a student at SIMC.