Commission calls Manual Scavenging as one of the worst violations of human rights

The National Human Rights Commission has termed manual scavenging as one of the worst violations of Human Rights. At the National Workshop on "Manual Scavenging and Sanitation", organized in New Delhi on August 28, 2008, the Commission called for all out efforts to eliminate this degrading practice. The Commission said that the extended deadline to eradicate manual scavenging which had been shifted from December 2007 to March 2009,
at no cost should be further extended and the country should become
free of this pernicious practice. The Commission expressed happiness that most of the States had come out of the defensive mode and have agreed
for resurvey of manual scavengers by independent agencies. It was felt that good examples of rehabilitation which go hand in hand with the liberation of manual scavengers should be replicated and the rehabilitation process
should not take long. While asking the States to stick to the definition of manual scavengers as per the Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, the Commission asked the states to do resurvey and identify manual scavengers on priority basis. It was recognized that there should be a clear demarcation between manual scavengers
and sanitation workers. NHRC further highlighted that the conversion of
dry latrines to wet ones and demolition of dry latrines wherever needed should be taken up simultaneously. The Commission emphatically said that under no circumstances the scholarship given to the children of rehabilitated manual scavengers should be stopped. The Commission also said that those who are still employed as manual scavengers in any part of the country could approach the NHRC, State Human Rights Commission or the District Authorities with their grievances.
The day long deliberations began with the 'Objectives of the Workshop' outlined by Shri A.K. Jain, Secretary General, NHRC. He said that despite the laws and interventions by courts and statutory bodies, it was a sad reality that the demeaning practice still persisted. The Secretary General said that in the 21st century when we talk about women empowerment and equality then how a demeaning profession like manual scavenging with a majority of women employed could still exist. He emphasized that besides taking steps to convert dry latrines to other forms it should be ensured that in future, dry latrines are not constructed. The Secretary General also emphasized on the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.
Member, Shri R S Kalha, in his address said that despite elaborate legal provisions, interventions by courts and statutory bodies including NHRC, manual scavenging had not been eliminated yet. Though several States had been claiming that there was no prevalence of manual scavenging in their States before the NHRC as well as before the Supreme Court, there were disturbing and contrary reports from NGOs and media about its persistence. He expressed the hope that the National Workshop would work towards a comprehensive and effective response that would ensure that the historical injustice of manual scavenging was forever consigned to history.
Shri G.P. Mathur, Member, NHRC in his inaugural address said that the Constitution of India guaranteed equality before law and equal protection of laws to all. But the failure on the part of some of the State Governments to eradicate manual scavenging negates the ideal of "dignity" which finds pride of place in
the Preamble to the Constitution. The Member said that a country could
never develop without the development of each and every individual and Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the Right to Life and that also with dignity. He referred to the Commission's relentless efforts to bring to the fore the curse of manual scavenging and advocating with the Central Government to notify the Central legislation of manual scavenging. He also referred to the Review Meetings on the issue held by the Commission in earlier years and said that despite assurances, the progress in the matter had been far from satisfactory. The Member pointed out that a number of States and Union Territories had not yet adopted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
Justice Mathur observed that besides the efforts of the State Governments what was needed was the joint efforts of all stakeholders like the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, State Human Rights Commissions, NGOs
and others for the removal of this degrading practice. The Member also pointed out that the liberation of manual scavengers should be accompanied by gainful employment so that they do not revert back to their hereditary occupation.
He called on all the authorities both in the Centre and in the States, NGOs,
media to be vigilant in this regard and take concerted steps to eradicate this practice.
The Workshop was attended by representatives from twenty States/UTs, nine NGOs working in the field of Manual Scavenging and five Union Ministries including Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation.