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Madras High Court Asks State To Consider Revising Quantum Of Compensation For Deaths Of Manual Scavengers

Sebin James
10 Nov 2021 2:30 PM GMT
Madras High Court Asks State To Consider Revising Quantum Of Compensation For Deaths Of Manual Scavengers
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The court noted that Rs 10 lakhs for sewer deaths as fixed in 2014 may be too low because substantial time has elapsed since those directions.

The Madras High Court has observed that the current quantum of compensation payable upon death due to manual scavenging may be inadequate and thus urged the State Government to consider revising the same based on present day cost of living.The Division Bench Of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu opined that Rs 10 lakhs compensation for sewer deaths as fixed by...

The Madras High Court has observed that the current quantum of compensation payable upon death due to manual scavenging may be inadequate and thus urged the State Government to consider revising the same based on present day cost of living.

The Division Bench Of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu opined that Rs 10 lakhs compensation for sewer deaths as fixed by the Supreme Court in 2014 may be too low of an amount because substantial time has elapsed since those directions were issued.

Upon hearing Advocate Srinath Sridevan appearing for Safai Karamchari Andolan, the court observed that there is substance in the submission of petitioner that the cost of living has uniformly gone up since 2014. The petitioner had suggested Rs 50 lakhs per person as apt in deaths arising out of manual scavenging.

The court suggested that the "state could consider 2014 as the base year and then peg the increase to the rise in wholesale price index or any other relevant index for determining the appropriate amount of compensation."

"It is also open to the State to provide for increase of rate by a certain percentage every three years, with a review after nine years. Again, the State has to agree in such regard."

The development comes in a batch of petitions including one filed by NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan seeking directions to end manual scavenging and ensure proper rehabilitation of victims of manual scavenging.

Today, the petitioner stated that in the status report filed by the State, there is no mention of employment to dependents of the deceased.

The petitioner also contended that the report mentions criminal action against contractors employing manual scavengers, however, it was contended that Urban Local Body heads may also be prosecuted.

The petitioner further submitted that there are over 3,000 manual scavengers, whereas the 2014 statistics names only 463 of them. Thus, it was contended that a fresh enumeration must be carried out under Section 11 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, to assess the actual number.

Regarding measures for the prevention of employment of manual scavengers, the petitioner noted that with respect to cities and municipalities having sewer systems, the matter has been satisfactorily being taken care of. However, when it comes to sub-urban and remote areas with septic tanks owned by private individuals, the state's affidavit has not been clear on the preventive measures. In such areas, Safai Karamcharis keep going down the septic tanks and deaths occur.

The petitioner suggested that registration of septic tanks must be made compulsory and a roster of septic tanks within the jurisdiction of each local body must be categorically kept. Lastly, the petitioner repeated that the compensation for deaths must be increased.

Barring these issues, the petitioner also appreciated that the government has complied with most of the recommendations including the health and safety of manual scavengers.

"Since Your Lordship's Order in March, there have been no deaths of manual scavengers. The order has woken up the authorities and substantially transformed their approach," the petitioner continued.

"Manual Scavengers will only come out only if the state makes an attempt to reach out", submitted the petitioner while seeking a mandamus be issued for fresh enumeration. The purpose of rehabilitation under the 2013 Act cannot be fulfilled unless and until this process has been carried out, the counsel for petitioner told the court.

To this, Justice P.D Audikesavalu noted that first, the court requires the petitioner's suggestions in writing.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee observed as follows before pronouncing the order:

"There has to be enumeration of manual scavengers and something has to be done. They have been born into thinking that this is only what they can do. Opportunity for normal life must be provided for manual scavengers, most of whom belong to backward communities. They are forced to follow their traditional job generation after generation."

In its order, the court made note of the petitioner's differences with the State's compliance reports "in terms of quantum of compensation to be paid, enumeration of manual scavengers, inter alia, how members of families may be educated or otherwise be made aware and accommodated in other jobs."

"Other areas where things may have to be ironed out will be referred to by the petitioner. No doubt that the Government will take notice of the same", the court recorded in its order.

The court also indicated that some meaningful measures must be employed to completely eradicate manual scavenging, including harsh penalties as deterrents. The Bench has also asked Government Pleader P. Muthukumar for a status report from the state government on these aspects that require clarity within four weeks.

Earlier, the Court had ordered that Corporations/Municipalities Heads shall be made personally liable for any death occurring during the course of Manual Scavenging. 

Case Title: Safai Karmachari Andolan v. Union Of India,Rep. By Secry & 6 Ors & Connected Matters.

Case No: WP/17380/2017 (PIL), WP/31345/2014 & WP(MD)/24243/2017

Click Here To Read/ Download Order



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