December 01, 2013

NAMMHR submits Suggestions on the New Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

MANUAL SCAVENGING PICTURE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR) is a civil society Alliance that works on strengthening rights-based approaches for preventing maternal mortality and promoting the highest quality of maternal health for the marginalized in India. The group recognizes that there is an urgent need for women's organizations, health organizations, groups working on law and human rights, and mass-based organizations to come together on this issue. The Alliance currently has members from twelve states of India, as well as expert advisors working with research, Right to Food, public health, right to medicines and budget accountability.

We are pleased that the Government has drafted the “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013” and has invited comments on it from stakeholders. We think that this act is an important one because this inhuman practice of manual scavenging is a profanity not only on those involved in this practice but also on the country and putting an end to it is the responsibility of the country as a whole. Those who are involved in manual scavenging suffer from the inhuman pain of scavenging human faeces and also go through the unbearable pain and humiliation of discrimination, untouchability and social exclusion. A very small percentage of children of these communities are in schools not because they  'drop out' but because they are 'pushed out' from there.

However, the proposed rules drafted by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (Government of India) in The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”, need further strengthening to eradicate manual scavenging totally and ensure comprehensive rehabilitation of liberated scavengers

 In this view, NAMHHR strongly recommends the following suggestions to the draft rules :

1.   Chapter - 4 of the act is focusing on the rehabilitation component of liberated manual scavengers, but in the Rules they have not discussed single point of the rehabilitation. Even they have not used the word – “Rehabilitation in the draft rules (apart from in the name of the rules).    
2.   Section – 13 of the new law is providing provisions related to rehabilitation of the liberated manual scavengers, like scholarship for the children, residential plot and financial assistance for house construction or a ready–built house, training in a livelihood skill with monthly stipend, subsidy and concessional loan for taking up an alternative occupation on a sustainable basis and other legal and programmatic assistance. But the Rules do not provide any of these provisions.  
3.   Draft rule – 3 says “No person shall be engaged for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank” and same time 
rule – 4 says “Any person engaged to clean a sewer or a septic tank shall be provided by his employer the following protective gear and safety devices. Like Safety body clothing/ safety body harness/ safety belt, normal face mask, safety torch, hand gloves, safety helmet, etc. This rule is violating the provision of total eradication of manual scavenging. 
4.   Rule no. 38 of the Draft Rules says about the quantum of initial, onetime cash assistance. But they are not providing provision about the amount of the cash assistance, time period providing cash assistance, as well as the responsible authority.  
5.   Rehabilitation of the former manual scavengers who are liberated from this inhuman practice in the period before passing the law, are not covered under the rules.
6.   Not clear and concrete provisions have provided in the Draft Rules for enforcement of the law in government institutions like Indian Railways, Defense, etc.
7.   Liberated manual scavengers often face discrimination,  caste-based atrocity or violence, Non-SC scavengers (Dalit Muslim, Dalit Christian) is not protected under the SC/ST (PoA) act 1989. Unfortunately neither the, new Act and nor the Draft Rules  mention any provision of the protection for these communities.
8.    Rules are very technical and gender-blind, despite the fact, that Lakhs of Dalits and Dalit Muslims as well as very high proportion of them are women, who are forced to continue in this inhuman practice. Yet the proposed rules do not focus Caste as an important aspect of the issue.
9.    In many States, Administration and local authorities like Municipal Corporation and Gram Panchayats as well as the local Railway stations force Dalit or Safai Karmcharies to do manual scavenging. But, under the Draft Rules they are responsible for enforcement of the law, which includes grievance redress. This will lead to conflict of interest as we cannot expect them to effectively eradicate the practice.
10.  In many states like Maharashtra, Manual Scavenging in Open Toilets (not in the dry toilets) are institutionalized. The rules are not covered this form of manual scavenging.

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