Will Manual Scavengers Be Liberated And Rehabilitated? [Part-3]

Posted on June 7, 2012 in Society

By Dr. Amrit Patel:

Part 3 of a three part series on liberation of manual scavengers.

Disputed Numbers: Despite the country has the “Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993” there are reports that about 13 lakh manual scavengers are still being engaged in this occupation in the country whereas the States have reported existence of 1.16 lakh manual scavengers. And only about 80,000 scavengers were identified as eligible to the benefits under the Central scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Though the Karnataka State has banned manual scavenging in 1970 the NHRC reports still 8000 persons have been in this occupation. According to figures released by the Government in 2011, there were 1,18,474 manual scavengers or their dependents identified under the Self-employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of manual scavengers [SRMS] launched in 2007. The 2011 decennial census reveals that over 26 lakh households still have insanitary latrines which are serviced by manual scavengers. Every day 1.3 million people in India (comprising more than 80% Dalit women) are forced to clean human excrement, a practice called manual scavenging. Recently, the Union Government has announced at a review meeting with senior government officials on eradication of manual scavenging to undertake a survey of the number of manual scavengers in the country with a view to understanding the extent of the problem and efficiently solving it by facilitating them to avail benefits of various schemes meant for them.

Action Plan: The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill, proposed to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament is once again a renewed attempt of the year 1993 to prevent employment of people in the cleaning, handling or carrying of human excreta. In order to remove any kind of doubt about the political will, Governments’ concern and commitment and law enforcing authority’s ability, transparency and accountability to end this dehumanizing activity once and for all Action Plan must be formulated which include, inter alia, [i] It is necessary to identify manual scavengers and dry latrines jointly by designated teams of Government officials and community members so that the Governments cannot deny the fact which often is the case [ii] Technological changes that can render the occupation humane, dignified and safe avoiding any direct human contact with excreta are prerequisites to liberate manual scavengers [iii] The new law should make the village panchayat and urban local body as well as the district magistrate of the district concerned responsible to ensure that no household constructs or maintains an insanitary latrine or employs a manual scavenger [iv]The poor sanitation in rural India where dry latrines remain in use must be improved to eliminate manual scavenging. In the absence of networked sewerage facilities, even urban local bodies engage workers to manually clean septic tanks. Manual scavenging can, therefore, be eliminated by significantly improving overall sanitation in the countryside [v]In case scavengers are employees of municipalities, Government, semi-Government or private companies the law should specifically provide for a clause/section “no termination from the jobs but should be confirmed in regular employment in a task not at all connected with scavenging”[vi] Government programs for promotion of flush latrines in place of dry latrines; livelihood rehabilitation including health of freed manual scavengers; and education of their children can effectively be implemented by local bodies and NGOs in which case administrative officials and elected representatives should be made accountable for targeted outcomes.

Their children of existing and freed scavengers should be guaranteed government-funded free school education right up to college or vocational training to transfer technical skills necessary to seek employment[vii]Manual scavengers must be empowered to fight collectively to change this centuries-old practice [viii] Legislators must demonstrate their political will to pass the new Bill assigning top priority during the ensuing monsoon session and the Government must show concern and commitment to make it a law within three months and direct all concerned authorities to enforce without delay [ix] Panchyats at village level and local bodies at urban centers must identify manual scavengers and put in place a Development Action Plan to liberate and rehabilitate all manual scavengers during the Twelfth Five Year Plan [x] At Block level, monitoring committee chaired by the Block Development Officer should review the performance village & urban center-wise every month [xi]At district level monitoring committee chaired by the District Magistrate/Collector must review the performance Block-wise quarterly.

District Magistrate must be accountable to ensure that targeted numbers are genuinely liberated and rehabilitated [xii] At State level the monitoring committee chaired by the Chief Minister should review the performance district-wise half-yearly [xiii] At national level the committee chaired by the Home Minister should review the performance annually and present in the parliament.