Providing cash payment and skill development training might eradicate the practice soon
While the Central Government has laid great emphasis on eradicating practice of open defecation by constructing both community and individual toilets, what has gone silently unnoticed is the fact that the practice of manual scavenging too has declined to an almost negligible level. And the strategy has been fairly simple. To stop a practice, its practitioners have to be provided an alternative employment. If the government can achieve cent per cent eradication of the practice made illegal 24 years ago, it would be a major achievement in its kitty.
The Centre has claimed that 91 per cent of manual scavengers have been provided a one-time cash payment of Rs 40,000 and 108 per cent of identified scavengers and their dependents have been selected for skill training under the rehabilitation programme for manual scavengers.
Of 12,742 manual scavengers identified in India after the promulgation of The Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, 11,598 (91%) have been provided one-time cash assistance of Rs 40,000 each as part of their rehabilitation, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot told the Parliament in April this year.
Dr Kirit P Solanki and Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu had on on April 14 asked the Government about the number of manual scavengers identified in the country along with the number of persons rehabilitated during the last three years and the current year, State/UT-wise; the budgetary allocation made and the expenditure incurred on rehabilitation of manual scavengers during the said period, State/UT-wise; the action being taken by the Government to tackle the said problem including providing alternative employment and skill training to such persons; the problems faced by the Government for elimination of the practice of manual scavenging; and whether the Government has fixed any time frame to make India free from manual scavenging and if so, the details thereof and the steps taken so far in this regard? The questions were probing and answers would have brought out the real progress made by the government schemes.
The Minister’s reply too was equally straight forward. Quoting Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 Gehlot replied, “there are 1.82 lakh households in rural India with at least one member doing manual scavenging.” Assuming there is only one person in those identified households doing manual scavenging, there are at least 182,505 manual scavengers in India.
The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of a media report about the plight of manual scavengers including 30 women in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh and overall 12,737 identified in 13 states and union territories till January, 2017.
Considering it as the worst example of violation of right to life, dignity, equality and health care, the Commission has issued notices, returnable within six weeks, to the ministry of social justice and empowerment and the chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government, calling for a detailed report in the matter along with the steps taken/proposed to be taken to deal with the situation along with measure for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims.
The Commission has observed that in a civilized society, where the government has passed laws like Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, Untouchability Offence Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Caste (PoA) Act, the women of a vulnerable Dalit community are still not able to get rid of the slur of carrying human excreta on their heads. Meerut is almost a part of the National Capital Region. If this is the picture of an area not very far from the Nation capital, one can imagine the scenario in the other parts of the country.
Narrating the plight of the 30 women manual scavengers in Radhna Inayatpur village of Mawana in the district, of whom many have grown old doing this work, the media report, carried on the June, 15, 2017, says that they are paid as little as between Rs 10-50 every month per household to clean the dry toilets and sometimes, as a bonus, given stale food and worn-out clothes.
Due to exposure to filth, most of them have multiple health issues such as vomiting, constant headache, skin and respiratory diseases, trachoma, anemia, carbon monoxide poisoning and diarrhea including infections like Leptospirosis, Hepatitis and Helicobacter. To avoid the stench, they often smoke beedis. One of the women has contracted tuberculosis forcing her to stop working as a manual scavenger.
The central government has announced the Swach Bharat Mission to construct over 12 crore toilets in rural parts of the country. However, the project hardly gives a thought to the workers who will be required to clean these toilets. There is no budgetary allocation under the scheme to construct sewer lines to deal with the excreta.
Reportedly, The National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) constituted by the government, grants Rs 40,000 to the liberated manual scavengers, which they can withdraw in monthly installments of not more than Rs 7,000. The process of rehabilitation of women manual scavengers is also gendered because all the rehabilitation schemes are aimed at male breadwinner.
The National Commission for Scheduled Caste has observed that the expenditure on the loans for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers in the last three years is negligible. The identification of manual scavengers is done by the village pradhans.
The government certainly is moving in right direction. The only thing that it needs to do is to hasten the pace. Let us hope that the notice served toit by National Commission for Scheduled Castes, serves as a warning spurring it into action sooner than later.
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