The Delhi High Court Tuesday asked the counsel appearing for Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to seek instructions from their client in a suo motu petition pertaining to the death of a sweeper and a security guard in Mundka after they inhaled toxic gases inside a sewer.
The petition was listed before a bench comprising Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad when the counsel appearing for the DDA submitted that she had received notice of the matter Monday and prayed for time to seek instructions on the same. The high court allowed the counsel for the DDA to seek instructions and the matter is now listed on October 6.
During the course of the hearing, the Court asked which agency in the particular area where the incident occurred is responsible for the sewage, and was informed by the parties that it was the DDA. The Court observed that the matter pertains to the death of a “poor scavenger” wherein “despite laws they are being forced to do all this”. The counsel appearing for the Delhi Government submitted that the executing agency should be made liable, as they were not providing supervisors.
On September 21, the Court issued notices to the DDA, the Delhi Police, and the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis in the matter. When asked by the Court whether their clients were liable to pay compensation to the family of the deceased or liable for granting appointment to the legal heirs of the deceased persons, the counsel for Delhi Jal Board (DJB) on instructions, categorically stated in open court that the “DJB is not liable to pay any compensation in the matter nor is it liable to grant appointment to the legal heirs of the deceased for the reason that the site in question is being looked after by the DDA and the employee in question was also an employee of the DDA.” The counsel for the MCD also submitted that the MCD is not liable to pay compensation as the employee in question was not its employee.
Senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao, the amicus curiae, had submitted a compilation of relevant judgments and statutes and submitted that the Court is seized of two matters including a PIL wherein in 2017, the Court had passed detailed directions asking the state and various authorities to come back and tell the Court what steps they had taken with respect to manual scavenging.
“Today the prohibition is on engaging anyone without a license, and for manual scavenging. The Delhi Jal Board at the very least should then have a list of persons who can do that job… The statute authorizes the Delhi Jal Board to sub-contract. The law is quite clear… it is the state who is responsible,” Rao submitted.
On September 12, Chief Justice Sharma observed that “there is a Supreme Court judgment on the subject which says the moment the death takes place of a person who was manually doing this scavenging work, the family is entitled to Rs. 10 Lakh immediately and a job to one of the members of the family.” The Court had taken suo motu note of the incident based on news reports and had ordered the registration of a PIL in the case, issued notices to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the chief secretary of the Delhi government, and the DJB and had appointed senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao as amicus curiae in the matter.
The two men died after being trapped in a sewer while it was being cleaned in Outer district’s Bakkarwala. The incident took place on September 9 at a DDA apartment complex in Pocket D, Loknayak Puram. The police said the victims were identified as Rohit Chandilya, 32, a private sweeper who worked at the complex, and Ashok (aged between 28 and 30 years), a guard with the DDA who tried to rescue Chandilya.