Punishment may be doubled to deter manual scavenging | India News


NEW DELHI: Amid rising incidents of deaths in the cleaning of sewer lines nationally, the Centre is set to beef up the deterrent by doubling the punishment for “hazardous cleaning” for the authorities and the contracted agencies. The proposal to amend the Manual Scavenging Act, 2013, which bars manual scavenging and unsafe cleaning of sewer lines, is in the final stages of approval.
The MS Act lays down that cleaning of sewer and septic tanks has to be done by providing an employee with adequate protective gear and cleaning devices, and observance of safety precautions.
Lack of such precautions is termed “hazardous cleaning” which carries a prison term of up to two years or fine up to Rs 2 lakh or both, for first contravention, and imprisonment of up to five years or fine up to Rs 5 lakh or both, for subsequent violations.
Now, Union ministry of social justice and empowerment is learnt to have proposed that the punishment be increased to prison up to five years or fine which may extend to Rs 5 lakh or both (first violation), and prison term up to seven years or fine up to Rs 10 lakh or both (subsequent violations).
The Act implies that authorities responsible for safe cleaning include the administration as well as private agencies to which the cleaning work is outsourced by municipal bodies or governments.
Crucially, the ministry is proposing a “national action for mechanised sanitation ecosystem” with policy reforms to end the practice of manual cleaning of sewer, which exposes workers to toxic gases and is the biggest reason for mishaps.
Since most municipalities engage private agencies, it is proposed that there should be “compulsory licensing of such agencies”. The licensing will be contingent on the agencies having facilities for mechanised cleaning.
The other change in the Act includes prescription that the district magistrate ensure prompt filing of FIR in case of death or injury caused by “hazardous cleaning” and payment of compensation to the family. The Act will now specify that state government will pay the compensation.
Though enacted in 2013, the law has failed to put an end to deaths that occur while cleaning of sewer tanks. Also, despite stringent provisions against dated methods which result in deaths and accidents, the ministry has found that there have been no convictions of persons or agencies in any state under the MS Act.
“Since the existing measures have not succeeded in the elimination of hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, a more serious, stringent and focused strategy framework is required to be put in place,” the ministry has argued while proposing the changes to the existing law.



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