Alarmed by the recent deaths of sanitation workers in the city, the Centre has said it is planning an amendment to the act which prohibits manual scavenging to make contractors and private persons, engaged for cleaning of sewers, liable for such deaths and responsible for compensation to be paid to the victims. A proposal has been drafted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and was part of the agenda at a consultative meeting held here to discuss issues relating to the implementation of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
“We are planning to strengthen the Act with reference to the responsibilities of contractors and private persons in the event of sewer and septic tank-related deaths and compensation to the paid to the families of victims,” Social Justice minister Thaawarchand Gehlot said.
Cleaning of septic tanks and sewers without protective gear is prohibited under the Act. With a number of deaths due to such hazardous cleaning reported in the recent past, Gehlot urged states to immediately take steps for total mechanisation of cleaning of septic tanks and sewers.
He also advised them to implement the penal provisions of the Act, especially those regarding contractors and private persons who hire persons for doing such work without taking the precautions as mandated in the Act and rules framed under it.
The states were asked to file FIRs against persons held responsible for such deaths and to blacklist contractors who have been found negligent in observing the Act’s provisions.
At the consultative meeting, Gehlot said though the Act calls for awarding of Rs ten lakh compensation to the families of persons who have died in sewer and septic tanks, only six states have reported payment of full or partial payment of compensation in such cases.
Also, even though it makes it mandatory for the employer to provide protective gears to workers, contractors are found to be ignoring the provisions.
The minister expressed concern over some states not submitting quarterly progress reports about the progress of the its implementation.
As per the Act, every state government is required to constitute a state monitoring committee. However, only 12 states have confirmed constitution of vigilance and state monitoring committee and only four states including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have held meetings of the committees constituted by them.
As per government data, there are 13,368 manual scavengers in the country across 13 states. Uttar Pradesh alone has identified 10,980 manual scavengers.
Also, while ten sanitation workers have died in the national in the last month alone, government data says only ten labourers have died here since 2015.
“The reasons for non-identification of manual scavengers which came to the fore included lack of awayness among authorities in the state about the wider definition of manual scavenging as provided in the Act. Their old perception about the manual scavengers is limited to cleaning of dry latrines and thus they deny existence of manual scavengers in their states,” a senior ministry official said.
District authorities and municipalities do not come forward to recognise the existence of manual scavengers as it might present a bad image of the district, he said.
The official also said that many municipalities have also not conducted a survey of manual scavengers due to ignorance about the Act and also due to a lack of seriousness.