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'Can't Be Tolerated' : Karnataka High Court On Deaths Of Two Manhole Workers & Suicide Of Cleaner After Manual Scavenging

Mustafa Plumber
2 March 2021 7:31 AM GMT
Cant Be Tolerated : Karnataka High Court On Deaths Of Two Manhole Workers & Suicide Of Cleaner After Manual Scavenging
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The Karnataka High Court has expressed serious concerns over the recent deaths of two manhole workers and another incident of a sweeper committing suicide after being allegedly forced to do manual scavenging.A division bench headed by the Chief Justice AS Oka on Monday directed the State Government to respond to a memo filed seeking to ensure fair and proper investigation into the incident of...

The Karnataka High Court has expressed serious concerns over the recent deaths of two manhole workers and another incident of a sweeper committing suicide after being allegedly forced to do manual scavenging.

A division bench headed by the Chief Justice AS Oka on Monday directed the State Government to respond to a memo filed seeking to ensure fair and proper investigation into the incident of a pourakarmika of Maddur Town Municipality, in Karnataka, committing suicide after being forced to clean a manhole without safety equipments.

Advocate Clifton Rozario, appearing for the petitioner All India Central Council Of Trade Union, informed the bench that the deceased Narayana (37) was harassed by officials to state that he entered into the manhole voluntarily and was given safety equipment. It is also said that the deceased has left behind three children aged 12, 10 and 7 years old. The petitioner organisation is stated to have submitted a memorandum to the Directorate of Municipal Administration, seeking for immediate action against the erring officials and for steps to be taken to compensate Narayana.

The memo prays for directions to respondents to provide dependents of Narayana all rehabilitation and compensation benefits under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and theirrehabilitation Act 2013. Further, a direction is sought to the State government to issue a circular prohibiting engaging of persons in any form of manual scavenging, including cleaning of manholes, sewage pipes, underground drainage pipes etc.

During the hearing, the court expressed displeasure over the report prepared by the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board to its officers in relation to the inquiry into the deaths of two persons-- Lal Ahmed (30) and Rasheed Ahmed (25), on January 28. The two were working as labourers with the authority and were allegedly being made to do manual scavenging.

Advocate Rozario submitted that the authorities claimed that the deceased slipped into the manhole and passed away. The bench observed that the report seems to be have issued without holding proper inquiry.

"Prima facie it appears to us that the Executive Engineer at Kalaburagi without holding any inquiry has submitted the report that the worker of the contractors accidentally slipped into the manhole chamber and to save him other two workers of contractors entered the chamber. The report shows that no inquiry was held by the executive Engineer and Respondent 12, seems to have acted on the basis of the report which is without any basis."

During the hearing the bench even remarked :

"These are the contractors appointed by you (authority), ultimately it is your responsibility to hold an inquiry to find out whether it was an accidental fall. This cannot be tolerated. Before issuing show cause notice you should have gone into the incident and found out what is the real reason!."

Advocate H N Sashidhara appearing for the authority tried to defend the show cause notice by saying that it was based on the preliminary information received by the Executive Engineer and the FIR in the case has been subsequently registered. However, the bench questioned the stand and following which he submitted that "I will request the Chief Engineer to make an inquiry and submit the entire report." The court accordingly granted the request.

The state government submitted a compliance report running into two volumes in regards to the interim directions issued by the High court earlier. The counsel for the petitioners sought time to deal with the report.

The police also submitted to the court in a sealed envelope the report from the Forensic Science Laboratory and doctor's opinion on the final cause of death of the two persons who died at Kalaburagi. The police also made a statement before the court that chargesheet in the case will be filed within a week from today. The court orally said that on the next date of hearing, March 16, the police should produce a copy of the chargesheet filed before it.

The court had in its interim order passed in December 2020 issued several directions to the state government and observed that:

"There can be no dispute that our constitutional philosophy does not permit any form of manual scavenging. Right of a citizen to live with dignity is an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The preamble of the Constitution shows that the Constitution seeks to protect the dignity of an individual. There can be no dispute that manual scavenging is most inhuman and it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21."

The bench held that :

"If any citizen is forced to do manual scavenging, it will be a gross violation of his fundamental right conferred under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Under Article 47 of the Constitution of India which is a part of Directive Principles of the State Policy, the State is under an obligation to endeavor to improve the standard of living of its people."

Issue Directions To All Authorities To Stop Manual Scavenging : Karnataka High Court Directs State Govt






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