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State Government Bound To Pay Compensation Of Rs 10 Lakh To Families Of Deceased Manhole Workers, Kerala High Court Rules

Lydia Suzanne Thomas
17 March 2021 2:27 PM GMT
State Government Bound To Pay Compensation Of Rs 10 Lakh To Families Of Deceased Manhole Workers, Kerala High Court Rules
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Relying on Safai Karamchari v. UoI, the High Court said, "The Hon'ble Apex Court has also directed that rehabilitation must be based on the principles of justice and transformation"

Giving some closure to a long-standing public interest litigation proceeding, the Kerala High Court recently directed the State Government and its instrumentalities to disburse a sum of Rs 10 Lakh to family members of late Raju and Mayavu, who passed away while cleaning a manhole. Acting per the Supreme Court's ruling in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others v. Union of India and Others,...

Giving some closure to a long-standing public interest litigation proceeding, the Kerala High Court recently directed the State Government and its instrumentalities to disburse a sum of Rs 10 Lakh to family members of late Raju and Mayavu, who passed away while cleaning a manhole.

Acting per the Supreme Court's ruling in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others v. Union of India and Others, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly instructed the Kerala Water Authority, the Labour Department, Water Resources Department, Local Self Government Department and Chief Secretary to the Government, respondents to disburse the sum within a period of two months of receipt of a copy of the judgment.

Ordering thus, the Bench remarked, "Let the judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court be honoured by the abovesaid respondents, in letter and spirit, without giving room, for further litigation."

The Court was acting on a petition dating back to 2014, filed by noted "activist lawyer" Basil Attipetty. His petition sought compensation for Raju and Mayavu, who died inside a manhole in a sewerage pipeline operated by the Kerala Water Authority (KWA).

The petition stated that when the employees were engaged in manhole of sewerage pipelines, adequate and necessary safeguards ought to have been taken by the Water Authority officials, so as to avoid any accident.

Grounding its contentions on Delhi Jal Board v. National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & Others, the petition asserted that the KWA's engagement of workmen without providing adequate safety gear and oxygen masks led to the death of the workmen.

Additionally, the Police and Fire and Rescue service personnel did not have the necessary required tools, to rescue the poor workmen, the petition had averred.

Accordingly, the petitioner had sought the payment of

  • An ex gratia amount of Rs 5 Lakh to bereaved family members
  • Amount of Rs 25 lakh
  • Rs 2 Lakh each to family members to meet immediate expenses from Chief Minister's Relief Fund

In addition to these, the petitioner also prayed for directions to the Chief Secretary as well as the Cochin Corporation to set-up night shelters to migrant workers throughout Kerala.

The High Court, when disposing the petition extracted portions of the Supreme Court's decision in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others v. Union of India (UOI) and Others where the Supreme Court was faced with deciding how to strictly enforce the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

The High Court pointed out that the Supreme Court in the said decision had directed the Union of India/State Government/Union Territories, to identify families of all persons who died while doing sewerage work (in manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award a compensation of Rs.10 lakhs, for each such death to the family members depending on them.

"The Hon'ble Apex Court has also directed that rehabilitation must be based on the principles of justice and transformation" the High Court noted.

While accepting the contractor's submission that the wives of Raju and Mayavu had respectively been compensated with an amount of Rs.4,00,000/- each, the Court highlighted that the reliefs as per Safai Karamchari was as against the Central and State Governments.

Rejecting the submission by the KWA that there was nothing to indicate in the judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court that compensation has to be paid by the Kerala Water Authority or the State Government, the Court ordered the sum of Rs 10 lakh to be disbursed to families of deceased manhole workers by the State Government.

The Court ruled

"Therefore, notwithstanding payments already made by the contractor, by virtue of the judgment of the Hon'ble Apex Court in Safai Karamchari Andolan's case, Government of Kerala represented by the Secretary to the Government is bound to pay compensation of Rs.10,00,000/- each, to the family members of the persons, who died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks)"

Directing the matter to be listed after two months to assess the extent of compliance, the matter was disposed.

The case was one of many filed by petitioner, Advocate Basil Attippetty, who passed away in 2015. The lawyer was well-known in for arguing several public causes before the Kerala High Court, notable among which were his challenge to the National Judicial Appointments Commission, a PIL seeking a directive to the state to formulate steps to make better the living conditions of third gender persons in line with the Supreme Court's NALSA judgment. The PIL disposed of recently was among the last filed by the lawyer before his decease in 2015. Advocate KP Pradeep was appointed to assist the Court after Advocate Attipetty's demise.

Senior Government Pleader Tek Chand, Standing Counsel Benjamin Paul, Millu Dandapani and Advocate Saji Varghese Kakkattumattathil, represented the various state respondents.

Click here to download the judgment

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