“Our society has marginalised manual scavengers to its darkest corners” and they remain “unseen and forgotten” for generations, the high court has said. The observation was made by a bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice A K Chawla while dismissing a petition challenging the eligibility conditions and preferences prescribed by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) in its March 2018 tender calling for bids for mechanised sewer cleaning and its transportation.
The court expressed hope that DJB’s scheme to mechanise sewer cleaning would eradicate the practice of manual scavenging and lead to a “positive tomorrow” for those involved.
“Unseen and forgotten for generations, our society has marginalised manual scavengers to its darkest corners. They are trapped in an eternal caste embrace, with no voice in the society or in any meaningful participation; their children are doomed to the same stereotypical roles assigned to them. The promise of equality, dignity and egalitarianism has eluded them altogether in the march and progress witnessed by the rest of our citizens,” the bench said.
“The present project, through the DJB’s impugned tender, promises a positive tomorrow to a significant number of these individuals; the Central government’s funding of this project is an important move — away from largely reservation-dominated affirmative policy paradigm witnessed so far,” the bench said.
The DJB is responsible for treatment and disposal of waste water which flows through a network of about 7,000 km of sewage lines across Delhi. In its tender, the DJB had stated that in awarding of bids, it would give preference to the dependents of those who were performing manual scavenging tasks, those who are performing such duties themselves (regardless of their community), and those who belong to the SC/ST communities.
The petition by M/s Metro Waste Handling, which provides solid waste management services and mechanised sewer cleaning services to DJB, had objected to this preference saying it would be abused and the process of selecting bidders would be opaque.