Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Expressing anguish over allowing human beings to clean manholes in various parts of Tamil Nadu where the common drainage system was not prevalent, the Madras High Court has ordered that the Secretary, Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department, ensure that manual scavenging is totally prohibited and that no deaths occur by permitting gullible employees to enter drainage in metropolitan cities and cleaning of septic tanks .

Disposing of a public interest litigation petition by A. Narayanan of Virugambakkam here, a Bench comprising Chief Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla, said that even after its interim order in October, there were reports in newspapers about deaths due to asphyxia while constructing a septic tank and cleaning another septic tank. To put an end to this, the Bench said it was passing the order for strict compliance by CMWSSB and the MAWS authorities.

Mr. Narayanan prayed for a writ directing the authorities to discontinue employment of human beings in cleaning manholes, sewerage and septic tanks and to adequately rehabilitate those who were currently employed in cleaning manholes and sewerage.

The Bench directed that entry of sanitary workers into sewerage under the guise of removing blocks should be prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances, which may include removal of concrete/FRP manhole doors which got damaged due to vehicular traffic and fell into the manhole causing obstruction, and where mechanical equipment could not be used and for interlinking newly-laid sewer main with the existing sewer main and for the removal of submersible pumpsets fixed at the bottom of suction wells, which go out of order. Before allowing sanitary workers to enter on such occasions, it should be ensured that sewage was totally emptied and thereby no poisonous gas remained in the line.

The Bench said the CMWSSB should arrange for provision of safety gadgets to all sanitary workers whenever they entered sewage lines for the permissible occasions. The board should ensure that hotels, marriage halls, cattle yards should construct diaphragm chambers to prevent entry of solid waste into sewerage.

As regards compensation to dependants of employees who lost their lives, the Judges said that in respect of those who were working through contractors and in respect of whom compensation was yet to be disbursed, the board should expedite the process and deposit the compensation with the workmen compensation commissioner, preferably within three months.