‘Public Health and Sanitation’ is an item under the State List. However, since the act of manual scavenging is dehumanizing, arising out of caste norms, in order to protect Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and prevent hazardous employment, the Parliament has jurisdiction to legislate this act through Entry 23 (employment and unemployment) and Entry 24 (welfare of labour, and its conditions) under the Concurrent List. The shortcomings of the bill The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2013 along with its ineffectual implementation, requires immediate attention.
The Standing Committee 1 recommended that the costs for converting or destroying insanitary toilets should be undertaken by the center and the state, using the Integrated Low Cost Sanitation Scheme (ILCS) and the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan Scheme. However, the final bill ignored this recommendation which would hamper its implementation because of the high costs of conversion. For instance, a twin pit pour flush is approximately 15,000 to 18,750 INR which could be uneconomical for families that have insanitary washrooms, and may find it cheaper to employ manual scavengers instead.
Though the Bill rendered agreements of manual scavenging void on 06.12.2013, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment 2 still revealed 53,598 manual scavengers from 06.12.2013 upto 30.06.2019 (Lok Sabha, 2711). Surprisingly, there were no convictions that were reported to the Ministry by any State or Union Territory (Refer to point 28 of the Bill) 3 . The high existence of manual scavengers, and subsequently, no convictions, forces one to question the effectiveness of the Bill.
The multiple regulatory bodies set up at the district, state and central level, have similar functions, which reduces accountability. Thus, the Standing Committee’s recommendation of having appropriate administrative procedures against officials and committees, should be levied to ensure effective implementation. However, the Vigilance Committee has the Superintendent of Police, representative from the railways, financial institutions, SC/ST community, amongst other members, which would give them power to rehabilitate manual scavengers efficiently and effectively, which is why the composition of the Vigilance committee in the Bill is commendable.
Lastly, in Chapter VI, the Bill contradicts the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and a conflict of interest may latently arise. The 2008 amendment to the CrPC introduced summary trials, where the maximum imprisonment for a minor offense is two years. Given the nature of the CrPC, it is unclear how the Bill’s punishment criterion of five years will fit into the framework.
The Bill also grants the Executive Magistrate of a state with the power of a Judicial Magistrate to conduct trials. Giving an executive, the authority to judge the Bill’s execution, is a conflict of interest, since there might be a case where one is trying a case against himself, or against someone under the same administrative set-up.
The shortcomings that have been brought into light can easily be solved by spreading awareness of insanitary latrines and manual scavenging as the ‘two evils’. Moreover, if the recommendations of the Standing Committee regarding costs and administrative penalties were incorporated in the Bill, then its implementation would have been more successful. In absence of such measures the law continues to remain a toothless instrument.
- The prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their rehabilitation bill, 2012. PRS Legislative Research. (2023, February 15). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-prohibition-of-employment-as-manual-scavengers-and-their-rehabilitation-bill-2012
- Lok Sabha, Question 2711, 22 DECEMBER, 2022, from https://pqals.nic.in/annex/1710/AU2711.pdf
- National Commission for safai karamcharis cleanliness is next to godliness. National Commission for
Safai Karamcharis | GOI. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.ncsk.nic.in/