The High Court earlier directed the state to submit all details regarding manual scavenging activities conducted in each district, but the state asked for more time
The Madras High Court on Tuesday observed that it is time that heads of corporations and municipalities should be held ‘liable’ if a person involved in manual scavenging dies in their jurisdiction.
Following a petition by Safai Karamchari Andolan, the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made their observation and gave suggestions. The High Court has ordered the Tamil Nadu civic authorities to take stringent action against corporation/municipal heads if a person engaged in cleaning the sewers and septic tanks is found dead.
The Madras HC had earlier directed the state to submit all details regarding manual scavenging activities conducted in each district. However, the state said that more time is needed to collect all the details.
The High Court was unhappy and remarked, “This petition has been pending since 2017 and there is no doubt that each time the matter has come up, the Court has stressed on the immediate need to stop the inhuman practice which amounts to exploitation of a particular class which has suffered for generations.”
The court also pointed out that youngsters from such communities are involved in such activities due to desperation and to earn quick money. “….undertake the risky exercise of entering underground pits and are quickly engulfed by carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide or like toxic fumes that leave them little scope to turn around and escape,” the Bench observed.
The Court ordered that appropriate state departments must make it clear to municipal corporations and Municipalities in Tamil Nadu that if a case of manual scavenging death takes place in the jurisdiction of the relevant municipality or corporation, then the appropriate head will face criminal charges.
Shockingly, manual scavenging is still taking place despite being outlawed in 2013 and there is reportedly no official data on those involved in manual scavenging. According to one report, a government survey has found 54,130 people involved in manual scavenging in 2019. Another report points out that there are over 10 lakh manual scavengers still involved. However, reports suggest that India has over 50 lakh sanitation workers of which an approximate 16 lakh are manual scavengers.
Under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act – 2013, the manual scavenging practice is banned. According to the Act, anyone engaging or employing, either directly or indirectly, a manual scavenger are punishable with one-year imprisonment or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both. For repeating the same offence, the imprisonment is for two years or a fine of Rs 1 lakh, or both.