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Failure of Legislations on Manual Scavenging And Way Forward

"I may not be born again but if it happens, I will like to be born into a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy, and hateful practice of carrying night soil" -- Mahatma Gandhi

Manual scavenging can be explained as the "removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, the cleaning of septic tanks, gutters, and sewers". It generally refers to the treatment of untreated human excrement from dry latrines and sewers.

It ranges from "faecal sludge handlers, drainage of sanitation employees, treatment plant workers, railway sanitation workers to domestic workers, school sanitation workers, community and public toilet cleaners, and even people handling garbage that comes into contact with human excrement and other hazardous waste".

These manual scavengers can essentially be categorised under different types of work. Although they all risk their lives in cleaning, the essence of work is somewhat different. India is the lone country on the planet where manual scavenging is usually practised notwithstanding being illegal. The COVID19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the plights of Manual Scavengers.

The central Government passed an Amendment Bill to bring forth stringent measures to eradicate social evil. It will take enormous political will and everyone's conviction to make sure that no fellow human being is forced to face the humiliation of cleaning another's body waste.

Why people are Dying?
Most people do not have any knowledge or idea of what is involved in manual scavenging. When they heard the question, many people were surprised with 'Do people today still bear other people's excreta?'. Where are these abandoned latrines?

This also goes like:
"We have never seen this in our careers?" This tests the public's view of the unfortunate social problem of manual scavenging. Daily coaches are fitted with a seat cover that is manually removed from time to time to allow cleaning. This ignorance, actual or simulated, of the reality of scavenging, speaks a lot about how our society deals with migrants and castes because, despite strong evidence, they still fail to deal with the truth.

Similarly, causes of deaths from abandoned underground sewer and septic systems are located not in uninhabited areas but in the center of so-called smart cities, urban cities, small towns and even in the National Capital. This is a global epidemic. The post-mortem reports suggest related cases of deaths as the result of flood-like happenings. Since it is toxic, death results in immediate death. Anyone with eyes can see methane gas is a murderer, so it must be forbidden for Dalits to do this work.

Why Manual Scavenging Still Exists?
"In India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not" -- BR. Ambdedkar

Despite the Manual Scavenging Act passed in 1993 and revised in 2013 to ban the use of manual scavengers, sewage tunnels across the nation are physically cleaned, resulting in several deaths in hell holes

Lack of tighter law enforcement: Bezwada Wilson, the national convenor of "Safai Karmachari Andolan", a not for profit organisation working to eradicate manual scavenging, said the inadequate enforcement of the law has left sanitation workers in a lurch.

"A single person has not been prosecuted since its promulgation under the Prohibition of Jobs as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act. The Act should not be a false promise like an election manifesto, and the Act should be what we should enforce in an unequal society," said the recipient of the Magsaysay Prize.

Cheaper Option:
Many companies still use humans to clean tanks that store everything from human waste to industrial chemicals with little to no protection for workers, since they are cheaper than purchasing machinery.

Lack of mechanised cleaning machines:
The national capital prohibited the practise in August 2017 and suggested the full mechanisation of the operation. Although there are 200 sewer- cleaning machines in Delhi, they are still far from demand and in many cases, they are not accessible to households on narrow lanes.

Unvoiced Problems:
There are few exclusive trade unions for sweepers and, unlike other sectors of Government and private workforce, only those who are not affiliated with sanitation work are concerned about their problems

Lack of Employment and Rehabilitation:
People continue to this , since our culture and our system have not been able to rehabilitate or incorporate these people into our society.

Social Exclusion:
People who were trapsed by birth have been faced with social stigma for decades and, despite social security programmes and legislation in place to uplift them, they were unable to take advantage of the opportunities because they were disregarded and hated. This leads to people working in this menial, barbaric and degrading profession deepening and practising for decades.

Failure of legislations adopted
When death happens in sewers, it is only on rare occasions that the law of the land is used to prosecute its violators. Denial or downplay is the rule here.

If, in the span of seven years, the Act of 2013 has not accomplished much, it is because it was intended to fail. The District Officer is responsible for finding and rehabilitating manual scavengers. If the District Officer fails to recognise manual scavengers, there is no procedure for checking his job. As a result, many manual scavengers have not been lifted.

According to the 2017 figures, the Government maintains that 91% of manual scavengers earned a one-time cash payment of Rs 40,000 and 80% of the identified scavengers and their dependents were selected for skill training under the manual scavenger's rehabilitation programme. However, the number of manual scavengers reported by the Member States is only 7% of the total number of such households, with at least one member engaged in manual scavenging, according to Census 2011. This leaves 93% of the total number of manual scavengers deprived of the benefits of the law.

The public hearing of "Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (National Movement for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging)" in New Delhi revealed that 76% of citizens who earned benefits were beyond the qualifying criteria due to rampant corruption. To date, only 12,742 manual scavengers have been recorded by 13 states. The 2011 Census noted that every state had manual scavengers.

Under the Act, the designated manual scavengers were entitled to obtain loans at a nominal rate to start up a small business. However, as a result of low levels of literacy and knowledge, as well as fear of non-repayment, hardly any borrowers found themselves as manual scavengers, they do not want to set up small businesses. In 2017-18, none of the scavengers listed took any loans under the scheme. They prefer the position of municipal sanitation worker/panchayat.

Hundreds of manual scavengers die each year due to lack of safety equipment. Although the act mandates the provision of safety equipment to manual scavengers, it does not even describe 'safety equipment. Last year, the Supreme Court asked the Government of India why proper protective equipment, such as masks and oxygen cylinders, was not provided to the scavenger involved in cleaning of sewage or manholes.

The Constitution provided that all human beings are equal but do not obtain equal facilities from the authorities, the apex court said before making an empathic argument that captures the nature of state failure.

Way forward:
Identify all individuals engaged with manual scavenging and those required after the law of 1993 was banned so, at least they gry qualified for benefits under the 2013 Act).

Ensure manual rummaging social orders are upheld with recuperation qualifications under the 2013 Act´┐Ż"including monetary guide, grants, convenience, advancing elective vocations, and other significant legitimate and automatic guide".

Take brief activity, especially when individuals from such networks are exposed to dangers and terrorizing for endeavouring to relinquish manual rummaging, to keep networks from being compelled to rehearse manual searching. The measures ought to incorporate keeping authorities liable for the legitimate institution of the relevant enactment, including the Act of 2013 and the Act of 1989 on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Strictly uphold the law against authorities of nearby Government who recruit individuals as manual foragers.

Conclusion
Over the most recent seventy years, manual scavengers have never truly had the chance to utilize the force. India is the lone country on the planet where manual scavenging is usually practised notwithstanding being illegal. In an amendment bill, the Central Government introduced strict measures to eliminate social evil.

Despite the Manual Scavenging Act passed in 1993 and amended in 2013 banning the use of manual scavengers, drainage tunnels around the country are being physically cleaned, and many deaths in hell holes have taken place.

Death leads to instant death because it is poisonous. All with eyes can see that methane gas is a killer, so Dalits must be prevented from doing this job. It will take a massive political will and everyone's belief that no one is obligated to be humiliated by washing the waste of another's body. A single person was not charged under Manual Scavenger Jobs Prohibition and the 2013 Rehabilitation Act.

The absence of mechanised cleaning machines in Delhi means complete operational mechanisation. Only 7% of all manual scavengers reported by the Member States are only 7%. Only those not interested in sanitation are worried about their problems.

There are few exclusive syndicates for sweepers and few syndicates. People trapped by birth have been met for decades with the social stigma. Despite Social Security services and regulations, since they were disregarded and despised, they could never take advantage of the opportunities. This leads to people working for decades in this menial, barbarous and degrading career, Every year hundreds of manual scavengers die due to lack of safety equipment.

The steps should include holding authorities accountable for the lawful institution of the applicable laws, including the Act of 2013 and the Act of 1989 on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

References:
  • Abhishek Gupta, Manual Scavenging: A Case of Denied Rights, ILI LAW REVIEW (2016).
  • Bezwada Wilson & Bhasha Singh, The Long March to Eliminate Manual Scavenging Centre For Equity Studies (2020), https://centreforequitystudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/9-The-LongMarch-to-Eliminate-Manual-Scavenging.pdf (last visited Jan 28, 2021).
  • Cleaning Human Waste, Human Rights Watch (2015), https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/08/25/cleaning-human-waste/manualscavenging-caste-and-discrimination-india (last visited Feb 14, 2021).
  • Diva Rai, The plight of manual scavengers in India : a legal perspective iPleaders (2020), https://blog.ipleaders.in/the-plight-of-manual-scavengers-in-india-a-legalperspective/ (last visited Jan 28, 2021).
  • The Hindu Net Desk, Watch: India's manual scavenging problem The Hindu (2020), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-manual-scavengingproblem/article30834545.ece (last visited Jan 28, 2021).
  • Knappily, Manual scavenging: India must now end the evil Knappily (2020), https://knappily.com/society/manual-scavenging-india-must-now-end-the-evil292 (last visited Jan 29, 2021).
  • Swagata Yadavar, Government claims to have assisted 91% of India's manual scavengers, without counting 93% of them Scroll.in (2017), https://scroll.in/article/841580/government-claims-to-have-assisted-91-of-indiasmanual-scavengers-without-counting-93-of-them (last visited Jan 28, 2021).
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