The Delhi High Court has awarded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the wife and mother of two manual scavengers who died while cleaning sewerage in Bawana Industrial area here in the year 2011.
Justice V Kameshwar Rao directed Delhi government’s Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (DSIIDC) to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation to the wife of Tilak Ram and mother of Bhagwan Singh alias Rajesh.
On DSIIDC’s claim that factory owners have been engaging private cleaners to clean sewer without its knowledge, the high court said since manual scavenging is totally prohibited, it was the duty of DSIIDC to ensure that its sewer lines are not opened by anybody for cleaning.
Both the women had moved the high court seeking compensation and direction to the agencies – Delhi Jal Board and the DSIIDC – and also the Delhi government which controls the two agencies, to pay them entitlements under National Family Benefits Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme and other welfare schemes and labour laws.
They narrated how on October 22, 2011, a contractor engaged Bhagwan, Tilak Raj and one Rohit for cleaning the sewerage near factory in Sector 2, DSIIDC, Bawana. Bhagwan and Tilak stepped into the blocked sewer without being provided any safety equipment, masks or oxygen cylinders and soon lost consciousness because of fumes inside. They died inside the sewer.
An FIR was registered at Bawana Police Station.
The women moved the high court in year 2012 after no action was taken on the FIR for over a year.
They said the men died while cleaning the sewerage in the DSSIDC area in Bawana, the cleaning of which area was the responsibility of DSIIDC and Delhi Jal Board and both Bhagwan and Rajesh were not regular employees of these agencies, but were regularly employed by contractor named Vinod for cleaning the drainage and sewerage in the area.
The petitioners relied on case titled National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers Vs. Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Ors, wherein a division bench of Delhi High Court had passed a series of orders on various issues including improving the condition of service of sewerage workers, provision of basic amenities, medical and hospitalization facilities, covering them in labour legislations, compensation etc.
In that case, the Supreme Court had granted a compensation of Rs 5 lakh.
In its response, the DJB said the cleaning of sewerage was the responsibility of DSIIDC and it had nothing to do with the issue in question.
The DSIIDC, in its turn, told the court that some of the factory owners were engaging private sewer cleaning men and the same is damaging the sewerage system and its infrastructure and the deceased men in the instant case were not even its employees.
Justice Rao, however, relied on case titled Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors, wherein the Supreme Court considered the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and by a detailed judgment with regard to the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, including death of workers while cleaning the sewers, had directed a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh to be given to the family of the deceased.
“The plea of DSIIDC that neither it nor any of its contractors had engaged the deceased persons for cleaning of the sewer lines would not absolve it of its obligation to pay the compensation in the eventuality that a person dies cleaning the same. Unfortunately, in the case in hand, each of the respondents have denied their obligation to pay compensation. Surely, the deceased persons would not have entered the sewer lines willingly unless someone had induced them to pay some money for cleaning it and the payment of money must have attracted them to earn livelihood for themselves and for their families. The compulsion of the dead persons was to earn some remuneration and having died in the course of earning remuneration, someone must be held responsible for the negligence, which resulted in their death. No doubt, an FIR has been filed but the families of the deceased persons cannot wait for compensation, which they are entitled to in view of the judgment of the Supreme Court, till a decision in the FIR. That apart, there is a complete prohibition from engagement or employment for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank under the Act of 2013,” said Justice Rao.
“In view of the prohibition, the DSIIDC should have taken necessary steps to ensure that the sewers are not opened for cleaning purposes by anybody. Any mishap occurring surely would suggest a lapse on the part of DSIIDC. Moreover … the grant of compensation would not await a decision as to who was negligent to compel the deceased persons to go into the sewer lines. The liability being strict, this Court is of the view that the DSIIDC shall pay an amount of Rs. 10 lakh each to the petitioners…” he ordered.
The court granted liberty to DSIIDC to claim the amount from the persons who are held guilty by the trial court in the FIR registered in the incident in 2011 for causing death by negligence.