1.Get real on Swachh (The Hindu)
1.Get real on Swachh (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the need of an effective implementation of laws to end manual scavenging. (GS paper III)
- Despite a clutch of laws, technological advancements and increasing sensitivity to human rights, and strictures from the highest court of the land the practice of employing human labour to clean sewers continues to this day, claiming the lives of labourers and leaving their families in a lurch.
- Holding the view that manual scavenging is prima facie a human rights violation and that it infringed upon the right to live with dignity as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, the Madras High Court has directed the Centre and the State Government to ensure that there is no engagement of manual scavengers in contravention of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
- Tamil Nadu, which is considered to be one of the most urbanised States with its vast network of underground drainage and septic tanks, continues to witness a significant number of deaths of manual scavengers.
- An inescapable fact in a deeply caste-driven country like India is that a majority of people engaged in manual scavenging belong to the Dalit community. While the ‘untouchable’ caste was engaged for menial jobs even before India was colonised, the work of manual scavenging was perhaps institutionalised during the British regime.
- According to the activist organisation, Safai Karmachari Andolan. Manual scavenging persists mainly because of the continued presence of insanitary latrines, of which there are about 2.6 million that require cleaning by hand.
- The Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 shows there are around 1,80,657 households engaged in manual scavenging for their livelihood. According to House Listing and Housing Census 2011, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal accounted for more than 72% of insanitary latrines in India.
- In spite of a legal obligation to do so, State governments are not keen to demolish and rebuild old facilities lacking sanitation, or conduct a full census of both the latrines and the people engaged in clearing such waste.
- A determined approach to end the scourge requires a campaign against social prejudice that impedes solutions in two ways.
- Many communities still regard the inclusion of a sanitary toilet as ritual and physical pollution of the house, and even the less conservative are ready to accept only large, expensive and unscientific structures much bigger than those recommended by the WHO.
- There is the entrenched belief in the caste system that assumes Dalits will readily perform the stigmatised task of emptying latrines.
- Scavenging has been an occupation imposed upon certain citizens of the country by the society, which later on continued as a traditional occupation where a section of people among Scheduled Castes was ordained to clean the human excrement and carry it manually on their heads. This class of citizens of India is known as Manual Scavengers.
- Manual scavenging has always been linked to the practice of untouchability, but Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolishes the continuation of such practices. National Safai Karmachari Finance and Development Corporation, an apex Corporation for the socio-economic development of Safai Karmachari and manual scavengers and their dependents is the nodal agency of Government of India for rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers and their dependents.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013-
- The definition of ‘manual scavenger’ has been widened to include a person engaged or employed for manual cleaning of human excreta in an insanitary latrine, an open drain or pit, on railway tracks, etc.
- Manual scavenging, other than manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment.
- The construction of insanitary latrines.
- Any contract for employment of manual scavengers shall stand nullified on the date of commencement.
- The employer cannot terminate the employee from the job for budgetary reasons. Instead, the employee will be given work other than manual scavenging for at least the same remuneration.
- No person, local authority or any agency shall engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
- For employing manual scavengers or failing to demolish insanitary latrines: imprisonment of one year or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both, for the first violation. For subsequent violations by the same person, the punishment shall stand at imprisonment for two years, or a fine of Rs 1 lakh, or both.
- For hazardous cleaning of septic tanks and sewers: imprisonment of two years and/or a fine of Rs 2 lakh for the first violation. For subsequent violations by the same person, the punishment shall stand enhanced to imprisonment for five years, or fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both.
- Each occupier of an insanitary latrine is responsible for converting or demolishing it at his own cost.
- If he/she fails to do so, the local authority will convert the latrine and recover the cost from him/her.
- Each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority is responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within their jurisdiction, and providing sanitary community latrines within such period not exceeding three years from the date of commencement of the Act.
- It is the duty of every local authority to use modern technology to clean sewers, septic tanks and other spaces within their control.
- Vigilance and monitoring committees to be set up at the sub-division and district levels. Monitoring committee to be set up at the state and central levels
- The Act has definite provisions for identification of manual scavengers and insanitary latrines.
- The municipality of a locality or the Panchayats of a village will conduct a survey to identify existing manual scavengers and insanitary latrines.
- The municipality (in urban areas) and Panchayats (in rural areas) will also be responsible for the rehabilitation of those identified as manual scavengers.
- The appropriate government may also appoint certain persons as inspectors and such inspectors shall have the power to enter any premises within his/her jurisdiction for the purpose of determining whether any person has been employed as a manual scavenger at such place.
- Manual scavengers who are identified in urban areas receive a photo identity card giving information about dependent family members.
- Initial, one-time cash assistance shall be provided. Manual scavengers are to be allotted a residential plot and financial assistance for construction, or a ready-built house and scholarship for children as per the relevant scheme of the central or state government or the local authorities as the case may be.
- They shall be trained in a livelihood skill, subject to eligibility, and provided a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000 during the training.
- They shall be provided with subsidy and concessional loan if they want to take up an alternative profession, subject to eligibility.
- Legal and programmatic assistance will also be provided as notified by the central or state government.
- Manual scavengers in rural areas will be rehabilitated by as per the previous provision relating to urban manual scavengers
- Change now depends on the willingness of the courts to fix responsibility on State governments, and order an accurate survey of the practice especially in those States that claim to have no insanitary latrines or manual scavenging.
- Empowerment holds the key to change, but that would depend on breaking caste barriers through education and economic uplift. Manual scavengers are mostly illiterate and have no exposure to any work, other than sanitation related work. Many of them are old. They lack confidence for running self employment projects. Many of them are not willing even to avail any skill development training. Thus raising the confidence level among those engaged in manual cleaning is vital.
Question– Manual scavenging is not only a health issue but it entails a lot of sociological implications. Comment.