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Par passes bill against manual scavenging

New Delhi, Sep 7, 2013, (PTI) : 21:26 IST
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A bill seeking to prohibit employment of individuals as manual scavengers by prescribing stringent punishment, including imprisonment up to five years, to those employing such labour was passed by Parliament today.

The bill has provisions for providing for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their family members as well.

It has a wider scope for higher penalties than the 1993 Act. Offences under the Bill shall be cognisable and non-bailable and may be tried summarily. The penalty could be up to five years imprisonment.

The bill, which had got a strong push from Congress President Sonia Gandhi and seeks to wipe out this "social stigma" by arranging for alternative jobs and providing other provisions to those in such work and their families got the unanimous approval of Rajya Sabha today.

Lok Sabha had passed the bill yesterday.

Moving the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2013 in the Rajya Sabha, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Kumari Selja said the new bill had to be brought in as the earlier Act did not prove very effective.

She said the "main inspiration" behind the bill to remove the "dehunamising practice" is Sonia Gandhi, who "actively pursued" this.

The was introduced in Lok Sabha in September 2012 by then Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik.

The bill was thereafter referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, under the Chairmanship of Dara Singh Chauhan.

The existing laws are not stringent and prove inadequate in elimination of the evils of manual scavenging and insanitary latrines. Hence there was a need for the new law, he said.

Under the new law, each occupier of insanitary latrines shall be responsible for converting or demolishing the latrine at his own cost. If he fails to do so, the local authority shall convert the latrine and recover the cost from him.

Each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority is responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction. They shall also construct a number of sanitary community latrines.

"Such latrines, where manual scavenging happens, will have to be demolished, otherwise somebody will be engaged to do it," Selja said, adding government will chip in with financial help.

Members from Left parties including D Raja (CPI) moved a number of amendments to the bill, which were negated and the bill was passed unanimously.

The minister said the Bill aims to provide for prohibition of employment as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of those involved in this work and their families.

"The bill has penal provisions for those, who engage the manual scavengers," she said, adding elimination of dry latrines and insanitary latrines are on high priority for the government.

Despite prohibition of manual scavenging, the practice is still prevalent. These evils are inconsistent with the right to live with dignity, she said.

"This dehumanising practice is inconsistent with the right to live with dignity," Selja said, adding a need was felt for a stringent law.

"We want to remove the stigma and blot on the society," she said, calling for a "change of mindset" to end the menace.

Selja also expressed the hope that a strong law would also help erase the practice from the society.

Referring to the continuance of this practice, she said all states were in "denial mode" and had earlier stated that this practice did not exist in their areas.
"When we are not ready even to accept that this practice exists, how can we remove this," Selja posed.

When Selja credited the Congress President for the passage of the bill, a BJP member remarked that they fail to understand that when Manmohan Singh is the Prime Minister of the country, how everything is being done by Sonia Gandhi.

D Raja (CPI) moved a large number of amendments prompting Deputy Chairman P J Kurien to comment, "Raja is not at all kind even to me. Raja is moving every amendment."
Kurien's comments came as the amendments moved by Raja took a lot of time when House was preparing to wind up.

Participating in the discussion, Thaawar Chand Gehlot (BJP) asked the government to provide health insurance to manual scavengers and ensure alternative jobs.

T N Seema (CPI-M) said 53 per cent of the country's population does not have toilets and this bill does not give financial support to states to implement the provisions of the bill.
Vasanthi Stanley (DMK) recalled the incidents like Delhi rape case to highlight the "untold miseries" of women and said that by engaging women in manual scavenging, we are "violating their self respect".

Expressing disgust over the practice, Raja said "we should render a national apology" for allowing this practice to continue. He demanded that the government should earmark a financial provision of Rs 1 lakh for each scavenger and Rs 5 lakh for his family's rehabilitation.

"Prime Minister should announce a special package to end the practice," he said.
Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) demanded proper training for manual scavengers for alternative work and said the sanitation staff working in Parliament, who are part-time workers, should be made permanent.

Janaradan Waghmare (NCP) described manual scavenging as a "blot on society".
Ravishankar Prasad (BJP) said government should consider pension for old manual scavengers and demanded steps to end the practice of open defecation in states like Bihar and UP.

D Bandopadhyaye (TMC), D P Singh Baghel (BSP), Shashi Bhushan Behera (BJD) also spoke.

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