The [Indian government] has appointed an expert committee to achieve the “impossible task” of abolishing manual scavenging in the country after failing to meet the deadline thrice.
The social justice ministry, which has vowed to banish the “worst violation of human rights” several times, would be in charge of the committee along with the labour ministry.
The committee, which has a representative each from the Union ministries of social justice and empowerment, urban development and railways and one from the Planning Commission, has been asked to frame legislation and submit its report by September 30, .
The first deadline for eradicating manual scavenging was December 2007. It was then moved to March 2009 and again to March 2010. No deadline has been set after that.
“We have failed several times to meet the deadlines. But the ministry is only partially responsible for the failure. Primarily, sanitation is a state subject. Enforcement of the act lies with state governments. A lot depends on the urban development ministry too as it has to build the necessary infrastructure,” a social justice ministry official said.
The government has admitted that the problem exists in Meghalaya, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Delhi. According to estimates, 1.17 lakh [117,000] manual scavengers are eligible for rehabilitation.
As far back as 1993, the government had introduced the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, under which no person can be engaged in manual scavenging and construction of dry latrines is prohibited.
The government had then lined up several alternatives for manual scavengers, including selling fruits, setting up paan shops and watch repair shops (up to a cost of Rs 25,000 = US$ 530) or bicycle hire/repair shops and STD/PCO booths (up to a cost of Rs 50,000 = US$ 1060).
Other alternatives were automobile repair shops, PCO/photocopying booths, provision stores, beauty parlours and music stores (up to a cost of Rs 1 lakh = US$ 2,120).
There were also options to be barbers, tailors or autorickshaw drivers.
The scheme, however, failed to take off.
The National Human Rights Commission recently termed manual scavenging one of the worst violations of human rights and asked the government not to shift the deadline any further.
Source: Cithara Paul, The Telegraph, 16 Jul 2010