HOW EFFECTIVE IS THE LEGISLATION PROHIBITING MANUAL SCAVENGING IN INDIA?

This article has been authored by Rishika Saraswat, a first year student at WBNUJS, Kolkata.





Introduction


The phenomenon of social exclusion is prevalent in societies across the globe. It is not uncommon for groups to face societal exclusion, discrimination, and denial of opportunities on the basis of caste, religion, ethnicity, or sex. In India, the people employed as Manual Scavengers are one such group. Manual Scavenging is a caste-based occupation prevalent in many Indian states. The act involves removing of excreta from “dry toilets” which do not have the modern flush systems through manual means.[1] Caste hierarchy is the perpetuator of this practice in India. Legally, the practice of employing manual scavengers was abolished with the passing of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. Further, in 2013, a legislation was passed by the Parliament for reinstating the individuals who were excluded by the society through this occupation, which was called The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013(“The 2013 Act”). Thus, making it clear that the employment of manual scavengers is illegal and steps towards their rehabilitation must be taken.


However, the ground reality is quite different. On 25th March, 2021, eight law students, enrolled in different institutes across the country, filed a Public Interest Litigation (“PIL”) with regard to implementation of the provisions of the 2013 Act. Prior to this, the Karnataka High Court had directed the Karnataka state government to disclose the steps taken by them for promoting the use of modern technology for cleaning of sewers. These cases have merit to them and reflect the failure in the implementation of the legislations that prohibit the act of manual scavenging.


This article aims to analyse the shortfalls in implementation of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013in light of the recent cases.


Historical Background


Manual scavenging is a caste-based occupation in India. Those belonging to the lowest classes in the hierarchy were forced into this occupation. Such people had been excluded from mainstream society by situating their residence outside the common areas. More often than not, their residence was found to be located in underdeveloped areas where conditions were unhygienic.[2] It was nearly impossible for these individuals to gain employment in any other sector due to the strict caste hierarchy that was culturally entrenched in the country which influenced the occupations of the people.


The actual effects this occupation brought on to those performing it were hazardous and life-threatening. Viral and bacterial infections in various parts of their body were a commonplace. Tuberculosis, gastro-intestinal and respiratory issues were some of the diseases infecting those performing the evil act of manual scavenging. Such individuals were employed by various upper-class elites for menial cleaning jobs that were considered lowly. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 came as a savior. It brought hope to the never-ending plight of this community and brought them a chance to give-up the horrifyingly inhumane task of manual scavenging.


The 2013 Act


After abolishing the practice of manual scavenging in the year 1993, the Government of India passed the 2013 Act. This aimed at eliminating the employment of individuals as manual scavengers as well the use of “dry toilets”. The 2013 Act provides for the trial and conviction of those, who employed individuals as manual scavengers. It further aims at rehabilitating these individuals into the mainstream society as well as to restore human dignity by providing them a residential plot, certain financial assistance and a training opportunity for employment under Section 13 of the Act among other provisions.


This Act called for Municipal officers to survey their localities to identify the number of such workers for the purpose of rehabilitation