New Delhi: While the draft law on manual scavenging that proposes mechanising the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks awaits Cabinet approval, the social justice ministry has already started the groundwork for the same.
According to R. Subrahmanyam, secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, municipalities and corporations that can completely mechanise the process of sewer cleaning have been asked to send their proposals. The ministry will then identify those who need subsidies to buy mechanised sewer cleaning machines.
“Two months back there was a meeting with municipal commissioners and 200 of them said they are ready to make their municipalities completely mechanical. We have asked them to send their proposal,” Subrahmanyam told ThePrint.
The draft Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, proposes to completely mechanise the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks and provides a legal basis for compensation to be provided for fatalities.
“The draft law mandates that municipal authorities bring in complete mechanisation. Now, it depends on municipal commissioners…if some commissioner is good, then they will implement,” the secretary added.
Amid reports that the post-recess Budget session could be curtailed due to the upcoming assembly polls in various states, there is no clarity yet if the draft law will be introduced during the ongoing session.
“It was supposed to be introduced in the monsoon session last year, but is still awaiting the Cabinet’s nod,” a senior ministry official, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
How the proposed law is different
The draft law amends the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which in turn was brought in as an amendment to the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
While the 1993 Act banned manual scavenging in India, the 2013 Act emphasised on rehabilitation. Under this Act, those engaging any person in the hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks will be punished.
The proposed new law takes the 2013 Act a step further. It not only looks at complete mechanisation but introduces a legal basis for compensation in the event of deaths due to manual scavenging and also brings in accountability at the district level.
According to the draft law, the district authority will have to ensure that basic safety is followed and prosecutions are done in case of violations.
At present, compensation is awarded to manual scavenging-related deaths only on the Supreme Court’s order.
In the Lok Sabha last month, the social justice ministry revealed that a total of 340 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the past five years.
Furthermore, in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha last month, the ministry said that currently there were a total of 66,692 manual scavengers in the country, with 37,379 in Uttar Pradesh alone.
A National Policy for a mechanised sanitation ecosystem has also been formulated by the social justice ministry, in coordination with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, which came out in March 2020.
Under the policy, the ministry is trying to help safai karmacharis buy new equipment to aid the mechanisation process.
“Most importantly, it is necessary to implement Swacchta Udayami Yojana scheme to finance safai karmacharis to buy equipment for which we will give capital subsidy upto Rs 3.75 lakh per safai karmachari. With that, they can buy machines, which may cost between Rs 6 to 15 lakh,” said Subrahmanyam.
(Edited by Rachel John)