A file photo of Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale. | Photo: ANI
A file photo of Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale. | Photo: ANI
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New Delhi: There is no proposal to amend the law banning manual scavenging, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale informed the Parliament Tuesday, six months after the Narendra Modi government announced a bill to make the law more stringent.

The MoS’ comment came even as the draft of the amended law, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, awaits cabinet approval.

The draft proposes to completely mechanise the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and provides a legal basis for compensation to be provided for fatalities.

In an unstarred question, BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje asked in Lok Sabha whether the social justice ministry is planning to amend the 2013 Act to make mechanised cleaning of sewers and septic mandatory.

In his written reply, Athawale said there is “no such proposal to amend the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”.

Athawale said this is because Section 33 of the Act makes it “the duty of every local authority and other agency to use appropriate technology appliances for cleaning of sewers, septic tanks and other spaces within their control with a view to eliminating the need for the manual handling of excreta in the process of their cleaning”.

ThePrint reached R. Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, via texts for a comment on why there is no such proposal despite a draft law awaiting cabinet approval. However, there was no response until the time of publishing of this report.


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Changes in law

The new draft law amends the 2013 Act, which in turn was brought in as an amendment to a 1993 Act — Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.

While the 1993 Act banned manual scavenging in India, the 2013 Act provided for punishment for engaging any person for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.

The new draft takes the 2013 Act a step further and asks for complete mechanisation, and legal basis for punishment.

ThePrint had earlier reported that the ministry has started the groundwork, identifying municipalities across India that have the wherewithal to completely mechanise the process of cleaning sewers and septic tanks.

In his reply Tuesday, the minister also said there is no proposal to redefine manual scavenging with an emphasis on categorisation of sanitation workers, nor is there any proposal for setting up a national 24×7 helpline number for reporting cases of manual scavenging.

However, the ministry has already launched the ‘Swachhta Abhiyan App’ for uploading data relating to insanitary latrines and manual scavengers.


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