More than a year after actor Aamir Khan highlighted the age-old discriminatory practice of manual scavenging, the Parliament on Saturday passed a bill which provides for a jail term of upto five years to those employing such labour.
Already illegal under a largely ineffective 1993 law, the new bill seeks to put an end to the practice of manual removal of human excreta from dry latrines.
“This dehumanising practice is inconsistent with the right to live with dignity,” Social Justice Minister Kumari Selja said after passage of the bill.
Once the President gives his assent to convert the bill into law, it will be illegal to employ labour for hazardous cleaning (manual cleaning without protective gear and other safety precautions) of a sewer or a septic tank. All insanitary toilets will also have to be dismantled.
The bill seeks to make manual scavenging a non-bailable offence and the cases will be tried in fast track courts.
Safai Karamachari Andolan, the national body for protection of manual scavengers, termed the passage of the bill as “an effort to rectify the historical injustice and indignity” suffered by them.
There are serious shortcomings in the bill, but we welcome it and hope it will make India manual scavenging free,” said the organisation’s national convenor, Wilson Bezwada.
Participating in the debate on the bill, CPI leader D Raja said “the nation owed an apology to those forced to work as manual scavengers despite it having been banned since 1993.”
Though no official figures on the number of manual scavengers are available, in his TV show Satyamev Jayte, Khan had put the estimated number at around a million.