Madras High Court directs Tamil Nadu government to give relief to kin of manual scavengers

The Madras High Court today directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay due compensation to the families of three manual scavengers who died while cleaning a septic tank at a hotel in Kancheepuram district last week.

The first bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose gave the direction when A Narayanan, representing Change India NGO, made a mention of the death of three persons while performing manual scavenging at the hotel in Sriperumbudur, 50 km from here, on February 14.

To this the bench said, “They must be compensated immediately.”

Requesting the bench to take up the public interest litigation (PIL) with regard to manual scavenging, Narayanan submitted that despite awareness being created about the social evil, the employment of manual scavengers continued.

On his part, the government counsel submitted that already two persons were arrested in connection with the incident and more arrests are likely to be made

Activists uncertain of bill banning manual scavenging

Unimpressed by the bill banning manual scavenging passed in parliament last week,several activists in the national capital Sunday said the legislation has many loopholes and would be effective only if implemented strictly.

“Just preparing a bill is not enough. What we need is strict implementation,” Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh sanitation movement, told IANS, referring to the existing Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, which he said remained largely ineffective.

“Moreover, there is an urgent need to convert all dry toilets into flush toilets,” he said.

Parliament Saturday passed the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, aimed at eliminating dry latrines and manual scavenging and the rehabilitation in alternate occupations of those engaged in this task.

In the bill, the definition of manual scavenger has been widened to include a person engaged or employed for manual cleaning of human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit, on railway tracks etc.

However, there is a major loophole in the bill, pointed out Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan.

“In the bill, it says the government may exclude by notification a person engaged in manual scavenging if he is wearing the right gear, which is a farce,” Wilson said.

“So, there’s no blanket ban technically, because if a person wearing gloves and masks is into manual scavenging, he might not be covered under the bill,” he said.

According to Vinod Sarwan, general secretary of Rashtriya Safai Mazdoor Congress, the bill will do more harm than good as rehabilitating such people is easier said than done.

“By banning manual scavenging, you will rob the poor people of their livelihood and they will die of hunger. The government talks about rehabilitating them, but it lacks the will to implement such schemes,” he said.

Wilson said the government should aid young and able-bodied scavengers in getting skills that will help them get other work, while elderly manual scavengers should get a monthly pension.

(Source: IANS)