Date: 17th September 2020

In this Monsoon Session of Parliament (from 14th September to 1 October)  the government is introducing The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which includes complete mechanisation of sewer cleaning and a proposal of introduction of ways for the ‘On Site’ protection and compensation of the manual scavengers in the case of sewer death. This bill is through the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry’s National Action Plan which not only asks the making of existing laws tighter but also eradication of this practice through covering the ‘management” of unsewered areas with better plans of the faecal sludge management system. This bill acts as an amendment to the act of 2013 called the The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act. (The law makes the construction of insanitary latrines an offense and calls for the conversion of all insanitary latrines within a certain period of this Act coming into force. It also bans the employment of people as manual scavengers for cleaning of insanitary latrines and cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective gear.)

In 1955, the Protection of Civil Rights Act called for the abolition of scavenging or sweeping on grounds of untouchability. This was revised in 1977 for a stricter implementation. The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Low Cost Sanitation for Liberation of Scavengers (ILCS) started from 1980-81 for the conversion of dry latrines into pit latrines through integrated low cost sanitation scheme. It took the government almost 8 years after that to set up a National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSCSTFDC) but it took many years for the body, now known as National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) to become an integrated platform to provide financial aid to the manual scavengers in India. In the year 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers as more than 90 percent of people employed as manual scavengers belong to the scheduled castes. This became an important landmark to free the manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations. The provisions of constitutional validity to municipal governance in India and categorisation of the urban local bodies for the delegations of responsibilities of public health including water supply, sewerage, and sanitation through the 74th Amendment Act, 1992 made India’s sanitation structure more concrete. It was only in 1993 through The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, a stricter stance was taken against the employment of manual scavengers, but this act had its limitations. In 1994, the newly constituted National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body made by the same Act of Parliament, 1993, initially was valid only up to 1997 but was later extended indefinitely. In 2000 NCSK submitted its first report stating that there is a very big gap in the implementation of the 1993 Act on the ground. In 2002, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment came up with a report that over 79 million people are still engaged in this practice. In 2003, CAG’s report on the evaluation of the ‘National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependents’ was submitted. The report stated that the 1993 Act “has failed to achieve its objectives even after 10 years of implementation involving an investment of more than Rs. 600 crores”.  In 2013 the Parliament passed the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 with a greater emphasis on rehabilitation more than ever. In 2019, the high court asked the Delhi government for an explanation through an affidavit to state whether they were hiring manual scavengers for the work of cleaning the septic tanks, directly or contractually. Since 1993 more than a thousand people have lost their lives through this practice in India. In the last ten years, sewer deaths have increased four-fold. 

Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) is demanding the following of the due process of the passing of this Bill which should have been through a public consultation and Parliamentary Standing Committee. The passing of this Amendment Bill without the above mentioned is against the established rules of procedure.

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