'If People Are Dying, Someone Has To Go To Jail', Delhi HC Says While Hearing PIL On Manual Scavengers

Delhi High Court has ordered 10 local bodies including Delhi Jal Board, New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Municipal Corporation of Delhi to file affidavits stating whether or not they are employing manual scavengers, directly or indirectly. The court also remarked that if people continue to die, someone has to go to jail.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers. The petitioner had made the following submissions before the court:

1. After coming of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the indirect hiring of manual scavengers through contractors have increased

2. All the municipal bodies are still employing manual scavengers instead of using machines

3. A direction was issued by the Delhi Government to conduct proper identification of manual scavengers but the same is not adequately carried out by the local bodies

4. Manual scavenging is mostly used for cleaning septic tanks. Basements of many hotels have these septic tanks which are cleaned by hiring manual scavengers

As the hearing progressed, it was also brought before the notice of the court that explanation to section 2(g) of the aforesaid Act states that manual scavengers which are provided with protective gear and safety devices as notified by the central government do not fall under the purview of the Act. Moreover, cleaning of septic tanks in private colonies are still conducted by the manual scavengers which are privately hired. There are no regulations or safeguards in place for such privately hired manual scavengers.

The counsel for the Delhi Jal Board also accepted the fact that there's a need for proper certification of contractors who can then provide licenses and protective devices to the manual scavengers hired by then. This was in response to an observation made by the Division Bench of Justices G S Sistani and Jyoti Singh that many private persons who hire manual scavengers are not even aware of the Act. Moreover, the court also opined that the fact that so many deaths have taken place despite the Act being in force, shows that manual scavengers are still being employed illegally.

The court, therefore, ordered senior officials of each of the 10 local bodies to file affidavits detailing the following:

1. Whether manual scavengers are being employed directly or indirectly through contractors

2. Whether they're employed for short-term, long-term, part-time or full-time

3. Procedures in place to supervise the contractors

4. Steps taken to provide protective gear and safety kit to the manual scavengers

5. Steps taken for rehabilitation