Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh put his weight behind the Bill prohibiting manual scavenging on Monday and said it can be passed during the Budget Session, if the Parliamentarians “resolve” to eliminate this practice.

Ramesh, who had been championing the cause of making India open defecation free within a decade, called the practice of manual scavenging despicable and called for Parliamentarians to back the Prohibition of Employment and as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012.

The Minister, who also held the portfolio of the Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation till October 2012, said it was possible to pass the pending Bill in two-three months during the Budget Session.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had also pulled up the Government for not passing the Bill in Parliament.

It is interesting that a law prohibiting the practice — Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 — already exists in the country but it failed to achieve the objective. However, the new Bill, if passed, is likely to have more teeth.

To begin with, the Bill would not need to be ratified by States and would be binding on all the States. Further, the punishment for violating the law too will be stronger than the law passed in 1993. Instead of the earlier one-year jail term and a meagre Rs 2,000 fine, offenders could now face two years in jail and a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh.

The Bill requires District Magistrates to ensure that no person in their jurisdictions is employed as a manual scavenger, that dry latrines are not constructed and all manual scavengers rehabilitated.

Further, the Bill makes it mandatory for municipalities, cantonment boards and railway authorities to construct adequate number of sanitary community latrines within three years of this Act coming into force.

The Railways – a Central Government entity – is known to be the largest employer of manual scavengers.