18th September 2013 marks the enforcement of, “The Prohibition of Employment as manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”. The act aims to eliminate the age old menace, by bringing in force an act that not only deals in “prohibition” of manual scavenging, elimination of “insanitary latrines” but also “identification and rehabilitation” of manual scavengers. The act is an effort to give manual scavengers a life of dignity since it speaks of their rehabilitation through employment.
The act goes hand in hand with the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, which prohibits compelling anyone to practice manual scavenging, and various provisions of UDHR, CEDAW and CERD which speaks of living human life with dignity by eliminating discrimination, whether racial, social, religious, origin, status, birth and equitable remuneration to all. The Act is in consonance with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution under articles 17 and 21 that mandates abolition of untouchability and protection of personal life and liberty.
Previously, The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, was enforced in a few states namely Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tripura and West Bengal while the other states could ratify it by bringing an ordinance, however the act only aimed at prohibition of manual scavenging.
The present act gives an exhaustive definition of the term manual scavengers. Under section 4 it casts a duty on local authorities, which includes the municipalities, cantonment boards, railway authority, panchayats to recognize insanitary latrines whether public or private and convert these into sanitary latrines and also that new sanitary latrines be constructed. The act takes care of the fact that the ancient system of sanitation is completely wiped out and also provides that where a private person is an owner of such insanitary latrine he shall demolish the same. Where a manual scavenger is acting as an employee he shall be provided with alternate employment, failing to do so the employer shall be fined or imprisoned with maximum punishment of five years.
Section 11 of the act empowers the municipalities to identify manual scavengers by preparing a list of them through a survey following which the list shall be published. The persons named in the said list shall no longer work as manual scavenger. In case a person is not included in the manual scavengers list he can apply to relevant authority who after thorough investigation shall include the person’s name in the list under section 12 of the act. The act provides for issuance of identification cards to manual scavengers. The act aims at giving assistance to manual scavengers and their families by giving employment to at least one member in the family and various other schemes have been drawn in their favor, which includes house, scholarship, stipend and vocational training.
The act also provides for education of masses by setting up awareness campaigns and casts a duty on local authority and district magistrate that provisions of the act are properly complied with. The state government can appoint inspectors to keep check on effective implementation of the Act. The inspectors so appointed shall have powers of search and seizure as given under sections of Code of Criminal Procedure.
An offense committed under the act shall be triable by Executive magistrate who shall act as Judicial magistrate first class. The trial conducted shall be a summary trial. In order to deter an offense being committed under the act the same is made non-bailable and cognizable. The act shall equally apply to companies.
Supreme Court in Safai Karmchari Andolan & Others versus Union of India, Writ Petition Civil (No.) 583 of 2003, directed the, “state governments and the Union territories to fully implement the act and take action for non implementation of the Act of 2013”.
The act permits the State Government to appoint Vigilance committees in each district and sub divisions headed by a chairman and other members which shall also include social workers, members from schedule caste welfare societies and women. For an effective implementation, there shall be a State Monitoring committee heading the Vigilance committee which shall be headed by Central Monitoring Committee. Above all there shall be National commission for Safai Karamchari which shall look into the effective implementation of the Act.
Thus, the act is an effort to integrate manual scavengers into the society by completely ending rights abusing practice of manual scavenging. The act has wider scope and higher penalties than the Act of 1993.