The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the Maharashtra government to inform if it had carried out a survey identifying the deaths of manual scavengers in the state since 1999, and if compensation had been given to the families.
The court asked the state government to take responsibility to ensure that the practice of manual scavenging is not carried out anywhere in the state and to ensure that it is “completely eradicated from the society”.
It observed that despite “strict legislative intent” as per the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the “shameful practise continues” and the same should “shock the collective conscience of the society.”
Maintaining this, the court granted interim relief to three widows of scavenger workers who died in December 2019 while cleaning a septic tank in a housing society in Govandi, directing the Mumbai suburban district collector to pay them a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each.
The court also asked the state government if it had carried out a survey of manual scavengers in urban and rural areas as per the 2013 law, and measures it had taken to rehabilitate such workers.
A division bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice Madhav Jamdar was hearing a plea filed by the three widows of manual scavenging workers, who died while cleaning a septic tank in Morya Housing Society, a Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) housing complex in Govandi on December 23, 2019.
The court said that amount to be given as compensation to the petitioners be recovered by the collector from the person or the firm responsible for the deaths, and that the petitioners be compensated within four weeks.
Advocate Isha Singh, representing the petitioners, argued that the state was strictly liable to pay compensation despite the deaths having taken place as the private housing society had employed the persons as manual scavengers.
Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia, representing the state government, said that the developer, who had hired the three men who lost their lives, had already deposited three cheques of Rs 1.25 lakh each (Rs 3.75 lakh in total) as part of compensation.
The court directed the said cheques to be handed over to the petitioners, adding the remaining amount should be handed over to the petitioners by the suburban collector.
The bench also held that the state government is liable and responsible to ensure that “an end is put to this practice” and said that the Apex Court along with other courts have time and again held that manual scavenging is a “humiliating and shameful” method to “employ people from lower strata of the society to carry out hazardous job of cleaning septic tanks.”
The HC also asked the government to provide the status of the probe by Govandi Police Station pertaining to the FIR lodged in the deaths of the petitioners’ spouses.
Seeking a detailed response from the state government, the HC posted a further hearing on October 18.