Taking a strong view of the recent deaths of manual scavengers, Delhi High Court on Monday directed the heads of all civic bodies in the national capital to be present before it on September 18 to explain how such activity was going on despite being prohibited under the law.
A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sunil Gaur was informed by amicus curiae Sanjay Poddar that in little over a month, 10 persons have died in four incidents while cleaning sewers in the national capital without any protective gear or safety measures in place.
All of them had suffocated to death due to the toxic fumes in the sewer lines. The court, thereafter, sought the presence of the Commissioners of the three municipal corporations, the heads of Delhi Jal Board, Public Works Department, Delhi Cantonment Board, the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Divisional Railway Manager of Northern Railway.
It directed the Delhi government to immediately pay the compensation of Rs 10 lakh per person as provided under the rules and listed the matter for a compliance report on September 18. It also directed the District Magistrates to furnish their enquiry reports in each of the incidents.
The court said they have to inform it about who were the officials responsible and for whose failure to perform duty had led to these incidents which have claimed 10 lives. The bench also wondered where the manual scavengers were coming from when the surveys undertaken by the municipal bodies showed no persons were engaged in such activities. It directed the heads of the various authorities to bring with them the relevant records indicating the number of persons engaged directly or indirectly through contractors in the work of manual scavenging or those exposed to hazardous environments, which are prohibited under the law.
The court said the records should contain the details of the works, the contractors engaged and the number of employees in each case. The officials also have to inform the court about the existing procedure for cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
The court was hearing of a PIL filed in 2007 for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. It had earlier termed as “disgraceful” the existence of manual scavenging in the city despite a law prohibiting such a practice and had said, “We are a country of poor people but not for the poor people.”
It is “ridiculous and shocking”, the court had observed when informed by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) that one of the manual scavengers was a “graduate”. The DSLSA, in an interim report, had said that there were manual scavengers in the national capital even after the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 came into force.