Manual scavenging was prohibited 21 years ago with Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 coming into force. But in Gujarat, this evil practice goes on even today.
Gujarat high court had taken suo motu cognizance of the matter twice and initiated proceedings on this issue in past two decades. Once it issued 11 different directions in 2006 for protection and welfare of manhole workers on a PIL filed by Praveen Rashtrapal in 2001. This has also not stopped plight of manhole workers.
The HC began hearing this issue in 1996 and the next year it directed the state government to abolish the practice. But the practice continued. The HC began proceedings again in 2008 on a TOI report that revealed that there were 64,195 sanitation workers who had to do scavenging manually.
The HC issued show-cause notice to all authorities concerned to put an end to manual scavenging. During the intermittent proceedings in the past six years, the HC too raised the question on August 3, 2011, “We want to know how to resolve the problem of manual scavenging and whether some machineries, suits for scavengers, etc. can be arranged to ensure proper cleaning of human excreta from the open areas.”
The HC demanded suggestions from NGOs, government and the civic bodies to resolve the problem. Senior counsel Girish Patel, who represented all petitioners, including Navsarjan Trust, often put forth suggestions to get rid of this system. In January 2011, he said strict implementation of two earlier judgments by the HC may have positive impact.
He also suggested for abolishing the contract system prevailing in civic bodies. Inadequate equipment, absence of monitoring committee that should include HC judges, absence of insurance cover and no separate manhole department in cities resulted in continuing of the manual scavenging in cities, the lawyer submitted.
Lately, upon his suggestion, the HC has asked the government to place studies carried out by IIM and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, along with what action it has taken for implementation of the new law, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers Act, 2013.