National Commission on Labour (1967)||
29.51 The 1961 Census estimates the number of scavengers and sweepers at about eight lakhs. Most of them are engaged by public authorities. Their difficulties are both social and economic. Mahatma Gandhi and several social workers including those belonging to these communities awakened the country's 'social conscience' to the conditions of this class of workers and yet we find that the social stigma of untouchability continues to stick, because of the 'unclean' occupation of handling and carrying of night soil, in which workers in this category are mainly engaged. A number of committees constituted by the Central and State Governments between 1949 and 1961 for studying working and living conditions of sweepers and scavengers have made recommendations about improvement in working conditions, housing facilities and wages. But with all these, the conditions continue to be distressing where workers have not been able to organise themselves. The committee set up by us examined these recommendations and also made first hand studies on the basis of which it reached certain conclusions. In what follows we set out our analysis of the more important among them.
29.52 Assessment of Past Programmes.—Most of the important recommendations about working conditions, housing and wages, made by previous committees have been accepted by the authorities. Funds for implementing them have been provided by local bodies to the extent their other commitments permit. Even so the results achieved in terms of the objectives of the programmes for improvement in the methods of handling and disposal of night soil have been 'far from satisfactory'. The reasons are: (i) the prevalence of the Jagirdari / Jajmani system (customary rights) for scavenging among the sweepers in various cities, (ii) inadequate organisational and financial resources of municipalities and local bodies, (iii) inability of the State Governments to provide adequate aid for getting the action programme implemented and (iv) indifference on the part of scavengers themselves towards any improvements in their way of work. Supply of wheel barrows to carry night soil has caught on in some areas and the practice of head-loads has been partly or substantially done away with. Where underground sewer facilities are available or where sustained efforts have been made to replace the old service privies by flush-out latrines, conditions have improved. On the whole, progress in this direction has been tardy.
29.53 Recruitment.—The local bodies maintain waiting lists of applicants for posts of sweepers and scavengers, which include persons who may be working as substitute workers in a temporary capacity. There are numerous complaints about prevailing malpractices in matters of recruitment. A large number of workers, even after years of service, are not made permanent and disciplinary action is launched in an arbitrary manner. There is a growing trend among municipal bodies to discourage the recruitment of women in view of the liabilities involved in their employment in the shape of maternity benefits and other conditions of work.
29.54 According to the information collected by our Committee, in 52 of the 68 local bodies which supplied data, the consolidated pay exceeded Rs. 80 per month. The additional facts that emerge are: (i) the basic pay scales are often low and unrealistic and have an adverse effect on retirement benefits in the shape of provident fund or pension; (ii) in the States where the pay scales have been left to be fixed by the local bodies themselves, they are generally low; and (iii) high wage rates in some States have been secured by collective bargaining or adjudication due to the existence of well-organised unions. Some States have laid down rules ensuring greater uniformity in the emoluments of employees in local bodies; Railways, ports and hospitals have also by and large standardised the pay scales. Complaints about irregular payment of wages, arbitrary deductions and irregularities in disbursement of salaries also exist on a large scale.
29.55 Social Security.—Provisions for social security measures for a large majority of scavengers and sweepers are almost non-existent. While those employed by the Government and larger corporations are eligible for retirement benefits, employees of local bodies, except where workers are organised, are not entitled to such benefits. Except in larger municipalities and corporations, such security generally takes the form of contributory provident fund; the rate of contribution is usually 6.25% of the basic pay by the employee, a similar amount being contributed by the local body. This amount is admittedly too meagre. To make matters worse, a number of municipalities do not deposit their own contribution and the contribution deducted from the pay of the employees
is not deposited into the provident fund account regularly, resulting in loss of interest to the employees. Moneys are withdrawn from the provident fund accounts for 'ways and means' adjustments. Gratuity schemes are in existence in still fewer local bodies. When a sweeper or scavenger meets with an accident, he does not get any compensation; whereas a large number of workers in other occupations in local bodies are covered under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923.
29.56 Trade Unions.—Sweepers and scavengers in large towns and cities are fairly well organised. Unions settle their disputes by negotiation or by utilising the industrial relations machinery provided under the law. The state of membership, rate of subscription and the pace of social activity conducted by these unions, barring a few, are far from satisfactory.
29.57 Hours of Work.—Sweepers and scavengers employed under local bodies are governed under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Some local bodies have also laid down hours of work of the employees under their rule-making powers. These tend to vary from State to State and from one local body to another. In 17 out of the 48 local bodies for which information was available to our Committee, the hours of work for sweepers and scavengers ranged from five to eight per day.
29.58 Housing.—The most important single factor affecting the living conditions of sweepers and scavengers is housing. Successive committees have laid stress on improving housing conditions. During 1961-65, Government of India (Department of Social Welfare) made a provision of Rs. 1.44 crores under the Centrally sponsored programme for the construction of houses for sweepers and scavengers. But these schemes could not make appreciable headway; few States and local bodies took advantage of them. Even where some progress has been possible, the colonies lack adequate accommodation and facilities provided are indifferent. The condition of private sweepers and scavengers as well as those who have not been provided accommodation by local bodies is distressing.
29.59 In some regions the occupation of scavenging has not been municipalised, and it is performed for private households by a family of scavengers. In Punjab, Haryana, U.P., H.P., Rajasthan, M.P., some parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat, Jagirdari rights in scavenging or 'Brit Jajmani' still prevail; in Delhi Corporation the Jajmani system of customary rights has been further extended in the fast growing localities which do not have underground sewers.
29.60 Our Committee has made several re commendations. We pick out the following which we consider important:
(i) State Governments should enact suitable legislation regulating service condition and set up an adequate inspectorate for the purpose.
(ii) Recruitment should be strictly regulated and detailed records of seniority of substitute workers, registration of candidates and issue of call-letters and appointment orders should be maintained
(iii) The Provident Funds Act (1952) should be made applicable to the sweepers am scavengers employed by local bodies.
(iv) The applicability of Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948 to sweepers and scavengers employed by local bodies should be examined.
(v) Efforts towards abolition of practice of carrying night soil as head-loads should be intensified. Emphasis should shift from improved methods of carrying nigh soil to the abolition of the necessity of carrying night soil itself.
29.61 Our committee has made a number of recommendations regarding provision of we fare facilities and provision for education, liquidation of indebtedness etc. We do not pro-pose to enter into a discussion on them. These should be looked into by the Government. We would, however, recommend that the problem of abolition of 'Customary Rights' should t solved through persuasion with the assistance of social workers and an alternative programme for rehabilitation of affected families should be provided.