Will Manual Scavenging Amendment Bill Eliminate the Evils of Manual Scavenging?

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The centre announced its intentions to introduce an amendment to ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’. The Amendment is sought to make the laws more stringent. This article provides a brief on the problems the current Act continues to face, and what solutions the Amendments wishes to provide.

Manual Scavenging Amendment Bill 

The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry is the branch of the centre which is set to introduce the Manual Scavenging Amendment Bill. Officials have stated that the Bill is set to be introduced in the forthcoming session of Parliament. The Amendment Bill is to be tabled during the winter session.

According to the Amendment Bill, it will be a criminal offence to force a person to manually clean or even enter a sewer. The offence will be punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. The fine was determined at an amount of Rs 10 lakh. The imprisonment has been set to a period of seven years. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment intends to increase the accountability of the private or civic bodies who still employ workers for such hazardous tasks. The officials of the Ministry have stated that the Bill will help increase the onus or burden on such bodies in the event of any injury to the workers.

Persisting Problems in India

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The Amendment Bill comes as a much- welcomed move, especially with the increasing number of deaths relating to the manual cleaning of sewers. According to statistical data, there have been 920 deaths from the period of January 1993 to March 2020. Among these deaths, the state of Tamil Nadu has recorded the highest number of deaths, at 206 deaths. 2019 saw the highest number of deaths, with 110 deaths, The number of deaths increased by 61% from the number of deaths in the previous year. The Supreme Court has also made recommendations regarding this matter.

Earlier, in March, a Group of Ministers was established under the leadership of Minister Rajnath Singh. It was set up to examine the problems and related to the manual cleaning of sewers and related matters. A national action plan was proposed, comprising of four components, namely – excavation of waste, decongestion of sewer, transportation of waste matter, and treatment art sewage treatment plants.

The Amendment Bill forms a part of the National Action Plan that is being set up. The Rs 1.25 lakh crore national plan would involve various ministries. In addition to central ministries, the State Governments would also form a part of the plan. The initiation of the plan is to take place in 500 cities across the country. It will be covered under the AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation).

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The lack of accountability as stated has posed on the biggest problems in the status quo. The lack of responsibility taken by private as well as civic bodies has resulted in large losses to the workers and their families.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

The Act to be amended is the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. The Act prohibits the employment of individuals as manual scavengers. The Act also provides for the rehabilitation of such workers, and other such related matters. The Act is also enforced to assure the dignity of an individual by the Constitution.

The Act recognises the right to dignity under the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. It also follows the duty under Article 46 of the Constitution. Article 46 of the Constitution talks about the protection of weaker sections of society. The provision, in particular, deals with the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It prevents social injustice and exploitation. The Act has also acknowledged that tasks such as manual scavenging were historically given to the weaker sections. Therefore, the provisions sought to eliminate two evils.

The Act prohibits the practice of hazardous cleaning. The definition ‘Hazardous cleaning’ is under Section 2(d) of the Act. It is the manual cleaning of a sewer without the employer providing any safety gear or observing necessary safety procedures.  Section 7 of the Act prohibits any person, local authority, or agency from employing persons for hazardous cleaning of a sewer.

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However, the Act does not completely ban practices involving the manual cleaning of sewers. This forms an important part of the Amendment Bill. The problem continues to be built based on divisions due to caste, class, and income.

Conclusion 

The Amendment Bill serves as just one of the ways to tackle the problems of the workers employed for the above-mentioned practices. It also proves to be one of the most important ones. The penalties of fines and imprisonment act as a deterrent and bring about accountability. The Amendment Bill, if enforced properly, looks to eliminate inhumane practices of manual cleaning of sewers.


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