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Changes in manual scavengers Act seeks only technical solutions, 'has no rehab plan'

Counterview Desk

An open letter distributed by the Dalits Media Watch, which networks news related to underprivileged sections on the proposed amendments to the Prohibition of Engagement as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, has regretted that it completely ignores to identify and rehabilitate the workers who had been forced by caste-based Indian society to engage in manual scavenging. 
Proposed to be sent to all members of Parliament (MPs) after seeking signatures from concerned citizens, the letter says, the amendment confines itself on “technological solutions” by talking about “complete mechanization of sewer cleaning and to provide better protection in work, the compensation in case of accidents”, ignoring “the lives and demands of workers.”

Text:

We the undersigned are writing to you to express our extreme concern over amendments being made to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 (PEMSR Act 2013) without any form of public consultation.
‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020’ has been listed by the Government in the list of new Bills proposed to be introduced during the on-going session of the Parliament. The Bill seeks to amend the existing Act which was brought in 2013 to put an end to the undignified caste-based practice of manual scavenging.
It is of particular concern to us that the existing Act has not only failed to put a stop to the daily occurrence of manual scavenging, but it has not even been able to curb even the most disastrous consequences of this inhuman practice in the form of death due to manual scavenging. Another stark failure of the Act has been in the near complete failure in identifying and rehabilitating those engaged in this occupation.
In light of such failures, there is a definite need to make suitable amendments to the existing Act. But unfortunately, the government has chosen to undertake this necessary process in a completely non-consultative and non-transparent manner. The text of the proposed Bill was not put in public domain and no comments have been sought from the public.
A document published by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on its website in March offers no analysis of the reasons for failure of the Act. The changes suggested in the Act as part of this document mainly focus on the technological aspects of the problem, completely ignoring the imperative to identify and rehabilitate those workers who had been forced by caste-based Indian society to engage in this undignified occupation. 
Amendments to prohibition of manual scavenging and their rehabilitation Act, 2013  are being sought without any public consultation
In the legislative agenda, the purport of the amendment Bill is listed as ‘complete mechanization of sewer cleaning and to provide better protection in work, the compensation in case of accidents’. The absence of any reference to the lives and demands of the workers suggests that even the proposed Bill may be narrowly focused on technological solutions.
Any process of reform in the law should necessarily begin with the workers engaged in this occupation and the proposed changes should be available in all Indian languages to enable full democratic participation from all citizens. Public consultation processes would have offered a necessary corrective to these and other posing lacunae in the amendment Bill.
Several groups have been working on different aspects of manual scavenging. Their inputs, based on their own experiences and interactions with workers, over the last several years, would strengthen and add value to the process of amending the Bill. It is also keeping with the process of consultation.
Hence, we urge you, as representatives of the people of the country, to demand that this amendment Bill be either sent back to the Ministry for public consultation or be referred to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee, so that we the people get an opportunity, based upon our grassroots experience, to enrich the Amendment Bill with the much-needed but missing concepts and provisions.

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