Should manual scavenging be termed as a national shame and at what stage can human excreta be lifted by a safai karmachari? These are some of the issues that the Cabinet will debate Wednesday when it takes up the draft amendment Bill on manual scavenging.
The Cabinet note being moved for approval by the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry has rejected a recommendation made by the parliamentary standing committee to describe manual scavenging as a national shame in the preamble of the Act,but it has accepted recommendations to lay down the eligibility criteria,through an enabling provision,as to who constitutes a manual scavenger. Setting parameters became necessary in the wake of cases where bogus scavengers were registered by some NGOs for making false claims. The panel had submitted its report on the subject last month.
To address the issue of safai karmacharis facing problems of lifting human excreta even with proper safeguards,the Bill says they can do so only if excreta is fully decomposed. The Bill has accepted the committees recommendation to give suitable representation to women in vigilance committees at district and state levels.
A stronger manual scavenging Bill has been advocated by the National Advisory Council,with its chairperson Sonia Gandhi writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2010 to take steps to end this demeaning scourge in a time bound manner. The governments intent to address the issue was made a year later with a reference in the 2012 Presidential address.
The need to enact a new law arose essentially to underline that manual scavenging is an issue of human dignity and welfare and not merely sanitation,and that the implementation of the earlier Act by the Centre,state and local governments has been unsatisfactory.
Some two lakh scavengers would benefit from the rehabilitation scheme that would cost the Centre about Rs 4,600 crore. The package will include a cash assistance,Rs 3,000 per month during training for other livelihood options and concessional loans for at least one member of the family to build a house. The Bill also seeks to broaden the definition of manual scavengers.