-The Economic Times
The Union Cabinet is expected to take up for approval a bill that deals with manual scavenging and rehabilitation of scavengers.
For nearly two years now, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council has been advocating for a new law to deal with the indignities of manual scavenging and for their rehabilitation. Gandhi had, in November 2010, written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking the government to take steps to end "this demeaning scourge in a time-bound manner".
The NAC had stressed the need for a new law, "built on the new realities and experiences in the last decade with provisions for active monitoring, redress and accountability." It argued that such a law would further the momentum, which has been "sadly lacking in the last 17 years" since the 1993 Act was passed by Parliament.
In May 2011, the prime minister assured Gandhi of the "government's determination to eradicate this abominable practice in a short time". The government's intent to introduce a bill to address this issue found a mention in the 2012 presidential address.
The Centre is drawing on its residual powers under the Union list (Entry 97) to frame the proposed legislation - Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengersand Their Rehabilitation - piloted by the social justice and empowerment ministry.
The need to enact a new law arose on two counts: Manual scavenging is an issue of human dignity and welfare, and not merely sanitation, and the implementation of the Act by the Centre, state and local governments has been weak.
The implementation of the law, which includes rehabilitation of an estimated 2 lakh manual scavengers, would require the government to provide for Rs 4,800 crore. The rehabilitation package would include a one-time cash assistance, Rs 3,000 per month during training for other livelihood options, provisions of subsidy and concessional loans for at least one member of the family and financial assistance for building a house or provision of a constructed house.
The proposed legislation seeks to broaden the definition of manual scavengers. It also fixes the responsibility on local governments for ensuring sanitary community toilets to replace unsanitary and manually-serviced toilets, which uses services of manual scavengers.
The continued provision of unsanitary toilets and the practice of manual scavenging will attract a fine of Rs 50,000 or/and imprisonment up to a year. While the practice of hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks will attract a fine of Rs 2 lakh and up to 2 years of imprisonment.
The existing legislation - Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 - had been enacted under Article 252 of the Constitution. It allows the Centre to legislate on matters if two or more state assemblies pass resolutions allowing the Centre to step in. However, it sought to address the issue as one of sanitation rather than human dignity.