The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed PSU Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (DSIIDC) to award compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each to the dependents of two manual scavengers who lost their lives in 2011 while cleaning the sewerage in Bawana Industrial Area in Delhi.
Relying on judgments in MCD v Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy [(2011) 14 SCC 481] and UOI v Prabhakaran Vijaykumar & Ors [(2008) 9 SCC 527], the high court construed as ‘strict liability’ the failure on the part of the said PSU to ensure that the sewers are not opened for cleaning purposes by anyone in view of the prohibition in Section 7 of the Prevention of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013.
The court, in rendering the judgment, noted that the cleaning of the said area was the responsibility of DSIIDC and Delhi Jal Board, but the said respondents have failed to do so and the deceased persons were forced to go into the sewerage without any safety equipment, oxygen cylinders or masks.
It was also observed that the deceased persons, although, were not regular employees of these statutory agencies, but were regularly employed by the respondent contractor for cleaning the drainage and sewerage in the area.
The primary defence of the DSIIDC before the high court were:
(i) It follows a definite procedure for sewage cleaning, including usage of super sucker machines;
(ii) The contract for the same was awarded to M/s ET Envirotech Overseas Private Limited;
(iii) The two persons, who died were not employed by the agency appointed by the DSIIDC;
(iv) They were engaged by the private parties for cleaning the sewage lines;
(v) That prior to the incident dated October 22, 2011, it had written to the police authorities to take note of the fact that some owners were engaging private sewer cleaning men and the same is damaging the sewage system and infrastructure of the DSIIDC; and
(vi) No complaint was ever received from any of the industrial owners regarding cleaning/desilting of sewer lines.
Holding that the DSIIDC could not be absolved of its obligation to pay the compensation, the high court rejected each of the aforesaid grounds of defence advanced on behalf of the DSIIDC.