Court takes suo motu cognisance of 2 workers dying of asphyxiation on April 15 and 2 others on March 19
Observing that manual scavenging is a shameful practice that shocks the judicial and collective conscience, the Orissa High Court has sought to know how many sanitation workers have died in the past 28 years and if manual scavengers or sewer workers have been rehabilitated in the State.
The court made the observation after taking suo motu cognisance of two sanitation workers dying of asphyxiation in a sewer in Cuttack on April 15 and two others meeting a similar fate on March 19 in Bhubaneswar.
The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice B. P. Routray directed the government to ensure that compensation of ₹10 lakh each is disbursed to the families of each of the sanitation workers.
Authorities have been directed to file affidavits of compliance, the Bench said.
The Parliament had enacted the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which became operational on October 1, 2013, after finding that the existing law, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, was not stringent enough to eliminate manual scavenging.
“The State of Odisha will file a separate affidavit listing the steps taken to implement, in letter and spirit, the various provisions of the PEMSR Act and the rules thereunder, as well as the EMSCDLP Act, including statistics relating to deaths of sanitation workers since 1993, the compensation paid in respect of each death, whether workers have been rehabilitated and whether parties who violated the law have been prosecuted and punished according to law,” the court said.
The court also sought to know why the sanitation workers who died at Cuttack and Bhubaneswar were asked to undertake hazardous cleaning of the sewer line and septic tank.
The practice of making persons belonging to the underprivileged and poorest sections of Indian society undertake the hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks continues unabated notwithstanding the enactment of the PEMSR Act and it shocks the judicial conscience, as it should the society’s collective conscience, the Bench observed.
The court has appointed advocates Bibhu Prasad Tripathy and Pami Rath as the amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter.
“This is a very sensitive issue. Society as a whole must ponder as to what solution we require to end the shameful and inhumane practice,” said Mr. Tripathy.
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