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Manual scavenging continues unabated

by udaya — last modified 2007-11-22 15:38

Deccan Herald 
 
http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Nov212007/scroll2007112136945.asp?section=scrollingnews
 
Chennai, PTI:
An estimated 13 lakh people continue to manually remove human excreta in the country, 14 years after it was prohibited by a legislation, mainly due to lack of coordination between the Centre and state governments, say rights groups.
Despite being made punishable under Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 and allocation of funds to rehabilitate the workers, the practice of manual scavenging continues, Bezwada Wilson of Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) said.
"The disgraceful practice of one human being removing another person's excreta happens at a time when India aspires to become an economic super power," Wilson rued.


Echoing his view, Dr Bindeswar Pathak of Sulabh International alleged that the complacency of the Centre and state governments has made the practice of manual scavenging perpetuate.


According to Planning Commission statistics of 1989, there were around six lakh scavengers engaged in the tasks of removing and transporting night soil. Since then the government has not held any enumeration to ascertain the exact number of such workers, Pathak said.
But as per SKA's estimates, there were roughly about 13 lakh manual scavengers in the country. As per statistics, 33 per cent of the country's total population use dry latrines and another 33 per cent do not have any toilets in their houses leaving them to defecate in the open spaces.
To effectively implement the legislation, a joint action by different government departments such as Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation, SC/ST Welfare, Health and Sanitation and Home Affairs was needed.
But, with only two years left for the expiry of the deadline to totally eradicate manual scavenging, Centre and state governments do not have a common plan or programme.


According to Wilson, it took four years for the Centre to notify the Act in the Gazette after it was passed in 1993. It was only by 2003, that many of the state governments adopted the Act. Still many of them maintain that there are no manual scavengers in their respective states.
Even the Indian Railways in an affidavit in the Supreme Court had submitted that it was not employing any manual scavenger.
"This is a false affidavit and we would demand an independent enquiry to verify the facts," said Wilson.
The 1993 Act declared the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry latrines an offence punishable with imprisonment up to one year and a fine of Rs 2,000.


"But nobody has been punished till now for violation of the Act," he said.
The organisations also say that the releasing and spending of the funds allocated for rehabilitation of scavengers was a problem area. Of the Rs 460 crore earmarked by the Planning Commission under the 10th Plan, only Rs 146.04 crore has been released.
"As far as implementation of programmes was concerned, there seems to be confusion among the different departments and the Centre and state governments," he said.


The Centre and states have different schemes and action plans, said Wilson, who advocated the setting up of a nodal agency to coordinate the different agencies and also demanded participation of the organisations working for the cause.
"Programmes are at a war-footing and their effective monitoring are needed to achieve the goal," Pathak, who recommends construction of sufficient toilets and promotion of "a culture of sanitation", said.


Wilson demands an amendment in the 1993 Act, bringing clarity to the definition of 'manual scavengers' by including only those who were engaged in removing night soil, instead of the present description which also includes sewerage workers.
"It was also an issue concerning scheduled castes as 100 per cent workers engaged in the work belonged to backward communities," he said.
SKA has decided to hold a three-day 'National Consultation' in Delhi from November 30, seeking urgent measures to eradicate manual scavenging, at least by 2010.

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