Eradicating manual scavenging: Safai Karamchari Commission’s 20-year lag in implementing law

safaiBy Jitendra Rathod*

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 came into effect across India on 6th December, 2013. Meanwhile, honorable Supreme Court of India gave landmark judgment to identify and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh to dependents in deaths of sewerage workers who died while cleaning sewerage and septic tanks since 1993 and strictly implement the provisions of the Act of 2013 on 27th March, 2014.

But, central and state governments have not acted/implemented the provisions of the Act of 2013 and the landmark judgment of Supreme Court. Manual scavenging is being practiced and is increasing in cities due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. Besides, state governments are not serious to identify such deaths of manhole workers and award compensation as per the ruling of Supreme Court of India.

The Act of 2013 has section no 31 regarding the functions of National Commission for Safai Karmacharis. The Act says that,

“31. (1) The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis shall perform the following functions, namely: — (a) to monitor the implementation of this Act;

 (b) to enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of this Act, and to convey its findings to the concerned authorities with recommendations requiring further action; and

 (c) to advise the Central and the State Governments for effective implementation of the provisions of this Act.

 (d) to take suo motu notice of matter relating to non-implementation of this Act.

(2)  In the discharge of its functions under sub-section (1), the National Commission shall have the power to call for information with respect to any matter specified in that subsection from any Government or local or other authority.”

There are more than 200 spots in Ahmedabad city where sweepers are forced by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to clean/handle/remove manually human excreta every day. We have details of 152 cases where manhole workers died while cleaning drainage in Gujarat since 1993. We approached the state government to award compensation of Rs 10 lakhs in 152 incidents as per the judgment of Supreme Court. So far no action has been taken by the state government in last 2 years in implementing the provisions of the Act of 2013 and awarding compensation of Rs 10 lakhs to the dependents of deceased 152 manhole workers.

I have filed a complaint on non-implementation of the Act of 2013 and its provisions to the National Commission for Safai Karmacharis on September 10, 2016. I visited the website of the commission.  It was very disturbing to refer the website. The contents of the website are outdated (20 years):

Some highlights of the website are as follow:

  • It quotes 1991 census for Scheduled Castes (SCs) population.
  • It quotes the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act, 1993
  • It quotes Integrated Low Cost Sanitation Scheme (ILCS) and (ii) National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers (NSLRS).
  • It quotes that “It is hoped that the obnoxious and inhuman practice of manual scavenging will be eradicated by 31 December 2007.”
  • In grievances there is nothing about manual scavenging in its website.

There is nothing about the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the judgment of the Supreme Court to identify and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules 2013, the Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers(SRMS), as revised in November 2013, the system for redressing grievances, roles and responsibility of the Commission to ensure effective implementation of the Act of 2013 etc.

It is very disturbing and pathetic that the Commission, which is mandated to ensure effective implementation of the Act, is in non-performance. We hope that the Chairperson of Commission and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment take the issue of manual scavenging seriously and set up a system to ensure that the provisions of the MS Act are effectively implemented and the inhumane practice of manual scavenging is prohibited from India.

*Senior activist, Janvikas, Ahmedabad

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