In a recent order, the Delhi High Court has directed the city government and civic authorities to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court decision on the strict implementation of the law for eradication of manual scavenging.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma observed that the top court has passed various directions on the issue. These include an enhanced compensation amount of Rs 30 lakh for sewer deaths and a minimum of Rs 20 lakh compensation in case of permanent disability.
The bench, also comprising Justice Tushar Rao Gedela, said in a recent order, “The apex court has issued various other directions to ensure that the practice of manual scavenging stands completely eradicated. The Government of NCT of Delhi, the Delhi Jal Board, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and all other authorities are directed to strictly comply with the judgment delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,”
The court observed, “The apex court has enhanced the compensation amount for sewer deaths from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh, and in case of sewer victims suffering disabilities, the compensation is to be fixed depending on the severity of the disabilities. The minimum compensation to be awarded to sewer victims suffering from disabilities has been fixed at Rs 10 lakh and in case the disability is permanent and renders the victim economically helpless, the compensation must not be less than Rs 20 lakh.”
A batch of petitions has been filed seeking strict enforcement of the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR Act) and its rules. The high court’s order came in light of this.
The bench averred that no further orders were required to be passed on the present batch of petitions. This was in view of the Supreme Court’s order, which was passed while dealing with a prayer for the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the PEMSR Act and for the imposition of a blanket ban on manual scavenging,
The court said, “The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the aforesaid judgment has issued various directions for strict enforcement of the 1993 Act and the PEMSR Act… In light of the aforesaid judgment delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, no further orders are required to be passed in the present writ petitions and the same are, accordingly, disposed of.”
Manual scavenging is a term used mainly in India for “manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or sewer or in a septic tank or a pit”. Manual scavengers usually use hand tools such as buckets, brooms and shovels. The workers have to move the excreta, using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which they carry to disposal locations sometimes several kilometers away. The practice of employing human labour for cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is also prevalent in Bangladesh and Pakistan. These sanitation workers, called “manual scavengers”, rarely have any personal protective equipment. The work is regarded as a dehumanizing practice.
The occupation of sanitation work is intrinsically linked with caste in India. All kinds of cleaning are considered lowly and are assigned to people from the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. In the caste-based society, it is mainly the Dalits who work as sanitation workers – as manual scavengers, cleaners of drains, as garbage collectors and sweepers of roads. It was estimated in 2019 that between 40 and 60 percent of the six million households of Dalit sub-castes are engaged in sanitation work.