The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the State government to come up with meaningful measures to completely eradicate the practice of manual scavenging by prescribing harsh penalty against the perpetrators as a deterrent.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu called for a status report from the government within four weeks. They also impressed upon the need for a fresh enumeration of people involved in manual scavenging in the State.
The judges agreed with advocate Srinath Sridevan, representing Safai Karamchari Andolan which had preferred a public interest litigation petition, on the need to increase substantially the compensation paid for deaths due to manual scavenging.
The counsel told the court that the compensation amount of ₹10 lakh for each death was fixed way back in 2014. Since the cost of living had increased manifold since then, the amount should be increased to ₹50 lakh, he demanded.
Though the petitioner had made a suggestion, the government had not indicated the extent to which it would increase the compensation, he siad. The judges directed State Government Pleader P. Muthukumar to get instructions in that regard.
The Bench also impressed upon the need for the State to educate the people involved in manual scavenging and erase the impression from their minds that they can't take up any other vocation. It said the State was duty bound to rehabilitate them.
In his submissions, Mr. Sridevan said the government was relying upon a 2015 enumeration to claim that only 464 people were involved in manual scavenging in the State though the petitioner estimates the number to be over 3,000.
Claiming that 42 deaths had been reported since the present case was filed in 2017, the counsel insisted that there should be a fresh enumeration. He also said the dependants of those who die due to manual scavenging must be given employment.
The other suggestion made by the advocate was to prosecute the local body officials as well as private individuals who engage people for manual scavenging. He contended that so far not even a single official had been punished.