Alarming Death of Sanitation Workers – Centre mulls to change the relevant law

Alarming Death of Sanitation Workers – Centre mulls to change the relevant law

10 sanitation workers have died in the national capital within the last single month. Alarmed, the Centre is now planning to amend The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).

Cause of Deaths:

Under the above act, manual scavenging without protective gear is prohibited, but the contractors and private persons who carry out this hazardous work do not adhere to it, resulting in sewer and septic tank related horrible deaths.

Statistics:

According to the PEMSR Act, each state is expected to create a monitoring committee. Thus far, only 12 states have adhered to it and of these only four states have conducted the committee meetings. Those four states are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Chattisgarh. Government data reveal there are about 13,368 manual scavengers in the country, with UP alone contributing to 10,980 manual scavengers.

State Government’s Role:

There appears to be a lack of awareness of what constitutes manual scavenging as per the PEMSR Act and the lack of implementation of the Act thereof.

According to a senior ministry official, competent state authorities do not even acknowledge the existence of manual scavengers, as they perceive it will bring a ‘bad image’ to their state. The official noted that many municipal bodies have not even made a survey of its manual scavengers both due to lack of awareness of the Act and due to lack of seriousness in implementing it.

Next steps:

  • Amend the PEMSR Act with penal provisions that will hold the contractors or individual persons responsible for such deaths
  • Make them pay compensation to the victims
  • Filing of FIRs against such contractors/persons
  • Blacklisting of contractors/persons who have been found to be negligent in implementing the provisions of the PEMSR Act.

According to the social justice minister Thaawarchand Gehlot, “[W]e are planning to strengthen the Act with reference to the responsibilities of contractors and private persons in the event of sewer and septic tank-related deaths and compensation to the paid to the families of victims”.

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