New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) Expressing ‘deep distress’ over the ‘shameful practice of manual scavenging’ in the country, the National Advisory Council, headed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Saturday asked the government to ‘fully abolish’ it by the end of 2012.
It observed that despite the practice of employing scavengers being declared an offence, no one has been punished for it. The issue is seen as ‘an issue of sanitation than of issue of human dignity,’ the NAC said.
It also urged the central government to coordinate with all state, local governments and also central government departments including the railways, to ensure that this practice is ‘fully abolished’ by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan.
NAC, which provides policy and legislative inputs to central government with special focus on social policy and the rights of the disadvantaged groups, also, asked the government to demolish all dry latrines.
‘The NAC is deeply distressed to observe that the shameful practice of manual scavenging persists in India, despite being outlawed. This practice involves entrapping women, men and even children only because of the accident of their birth, into a humiliating vocation of gathering human excreta from individual or community dry toilets with bare hands, brooms or metal scrapers,’ said a statement issued here after the NAC meeting.
Parliament had passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, in 1993 under which the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines to be an offence punishable with imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of Rs.2,000.
‘But central, state and local governments have been very weak in implementing this law, and almost no one has been punished under this law in 17 years. Local bodies themselves routinely run dry toilets, and employ people of specific castes to clean these manually,’ the statement added.
‘One basic problem so far is that the effort has been viewed by governments more as an issue of sanitation, than of issue of human dignity as guaranteed to all citizens in the Preamble of the Constitution,’ said the NAC, which also discussed in detail the proposal of the Working Group on Food Security Bill.
To abolish the practice, a new survey needs to be carried out in every state and Union Territories with wide public involvement of remaining dry latrines and manual scavengers
The NAC also asked the government to carry out a psycho-social and livelihood rehabilitation in modern marketable skills of all manual scavengers and their families and to conduct a special programme for education, including higher education and computer education of all children of manual scavengers.
‘The Ministry of Social Justice should formulate 100 percent centrally sponsored scheme to support the rehabilitation initiatives,’ it added.
‘The law also needs to be amended to ensure shaper definitions of manual scavenging, and accountability of public officials who employ, or fail to prevent, manual scavenging,’ the statement said.
It also recommended that the implementation of the law should be monitored at the highest levels of the central and state governments.
‘The NAC will also monitor on a quarterly basis the progress in abolition of manual scavenging, in order to ensure the final end of this most degrading practice of caste discrimination,’ it said.