Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot on Friday said states must ensure proper implementation of the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013′ and action will be taken if it is not implemented.
The minister was replying to a private members’s resolution in Rajya Sabha seeking to give statutory status to National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) and take steps to avoid casualties due to manual scavenging.
In his reply, Gehlot said it is the duty of the state governments to ensure that provisions in the Act are implemented.
The minister said the legislation was enacted in 2013 and a time-frame was given for its implementation which has already elapsed. He said if it is still not implemented, action will be taken.
He observed that states found it risky to share actual data fearing that action will be taken.
“However, the Centre conducted a Survey and 17 states provided information, but we thought the information was incorrect. After this we conducted a Survey in 170 districts across 18 states and the report will come out shortly,” Gehlot said, adding that various measures are being taken by the government including skill development of manual scavengers.
The resolution moved by RJD member Manoj Jha, who called for blacklisting companies that do not enforce implementation of the Act. Besides, on the seven people who died cleaning a hotel’s sewer in Gujarat, Gehlot said Rs 4 lakh compensation each has already been paid to them from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund on June 19.
He said on the same day under the Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act, a provision has been made to provide Rs 8.25 lakh as compensation, half of which has been paid and the remaining amount will be disbursed.
Till now 37 FIRs have been registered in such cases, said the minister.
RJD’s Manoj Jha, who moved the private members’ resolution, said,”It is not just my resolution. This is listed with a collective consciousness.”
Elaborating further, he said there are instances of deaths during cleaning of municipal sewerage and private septic tanks which indicates that the law ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 (PMSRA)’ is not being implemented properly.
He state that government (states and centre) are the biggest employers of these manual scavengers, particularly, through contractors.
He drew the attention of the House to, what he said, workers working without safety gazettes like gum boots etc, which poses threat to their lives and causes one death in four days.
He also told the House that sometimes misreporting about reason of death of these workers result in lower compensation in case of casualty. He said manual scavenging reduces average life by 10 years.
The resolution says that the NCSK has been functioning as a non-statutory body since 2004 when the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993 lapsed. It recommends that the government take cognizance of the continued illegal employment of persons for manual scavenging and much more concerted effort be taken to root out the inhuman practice and to remedy its devastating effect on the families of those engaged in this work.
It also sought amendment in the PEMSRA to increase compensation for persons employed in manual scavenging in violation of the law and who die in sewer drains and septic tanks, and provide substantial grants for rehabilitation of persons ‘liberated’ from manual scavenging since 2013.
It also demanded that a corpus fund be created by the Central Government as an emergency response to provision for payment of compensation to the families who lose their members cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
The resolution also says incentives be given to sanitation workers for further studies and skill development and special scholarships be instituted for children of sanitation workers.
It also stated that the provisions of the PEMSRA be routed through and monitored by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes as the specific duties of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis can be better discharged by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes which has a broader mandate and more powers as a constitutional body.
Under the resolution it was demanded that a national institution be constituted to modernise sanitation and sewer system and to mechanise all the sewer and septic cleaning work all over the country.
It sought a national level enquiry to be held to enquire into the poor implementation of the PEMSRA with specific terms of reference of the enquiry including, inter-alia, a close scrutiny of caste profile of the sanitation workers engaged in / rehabilitated from practicing manual scavenging.
Participating in the debate Satyanarayan Jatiya (BJP), Amee Yajnik (Congress), Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP), Vijila Sathyananth (AIADMK and Prasanna Acharya supported the bill and sought strict implementation of laws in the country to avoid death due to manual scavengening.
Sanjay Singh of AAP and Shiv Pratap Shukla of BJP also spoke on the issue and supported it. Ravi Prakash Verma of SP asked the government to consider the deceased manual scavengers as Cleanliness Warriors. He also sought inclusion of the industrial sluge in this category.
D Raja of CPI asked the government to direct the Niti Aayog to call a meeting on manual scavenging as it was a shameful practise.
Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe of BJP, Husain Dalwai of INC and Vikas Mahatme of BJP also spoke.