The Supreme Court has directed the government to place on record within six weeks the steps taken by it to implement its nearly 10-year-old judgment to end manual scavenging and prevent future generations from the “inhuman practice” while making entry into sewers without safety gear a crime even in emergency situations.
A Bench led by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat recently took judicial notice of the fact that manual scavenging and deaths of people trapped in flooded sewer lines continue to be a reality though the practice was banned with the introduction of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
The apex court itself had reinforced the prohibition and directed the rehabilitation of people, traditionally and otherwise, employed as manual scavengers in its judgment in Safai Karamchari Andolan And Others vs. Union of India. The judgment had called for their “rehabilitation based on the principles of justice and transformation”. “Persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law,” the court had stressed.
Justice Bhat, hearing a petition filed by Dr. Balram Singh in person, sought details of steps taken by the Centre in pursuance of the 2014 judgment, including rehabilitation of the people falling within the definition of ‘manual scavengers’, abolition/demolition of dry latrines statewise; status of dry latrines and employment of safai karamcharis in cantonment boards and railways; statewise set up of municipal corporations and the nature of equipment (as well as the description of technical equipment) deployed by such bodies to mechanise sewage cleaning; and online tracking of sewage deaths and action taken by their authorities, including payment of compensation and rehabilitation of families.
The court impleaded the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes as respondents in the case. The court has appointed advocate K. Parameswar as its amicus curiae. The Social Justice Ministry has to file its report with the information in six weeks.
The 2014 judgment in the Safai Karamchari case had seen the court direct a one-time cash assistance to people employed as manual scavengers, houses for them, training in livelihood skills for at least one member of their families, concessional loans to prop them up financially and find an occupation, among other welfare measures
The judgment had directed ₹10 lakh to be paid in compensation in the case of sewer deaths. It had directed the railways to “take time-bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks”.
“Identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award compensation of ₹10 lakh for each such death to the family members depending on them,” the court had ordered the government. eom