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Corporations/Municipalities Heads To Be Held Personally Liable For Any Death To Anyone Engaged In Manual Scavenging Work: Madras High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
17 March 2021 12:05 PM GMT
Corporations/Municipalities Heads To Be Held Personally Liable For Any Death To Anyone Engaged In Manual Scavenging Work: Madras High Court
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In a significant observation, the Madras High Court on Tuesday (16th March) opined that it is high time that the heads of Corporations and Municipalities are held 'personally liable' for any death to anyone engaged in manual scavenging within their territories. The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy also directed the Secretary in the...

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In a significant observation, the Madras High Court on Tuesday (16th March) opined that it is high time that the heads of Corporations and Municipalities are held 'personally liable' for any death to anyone engaged in manual scavenging within their territories.

The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy also directed the Secretary in the Municipal Administration and Water Supply to list out the measures taken in terms of the orders passed by the Court to stop the practice of Manual Scavenging.

It may be noted that on Wednesday (10th March), the High Court had sought immediate information from all the Districts, including the Municipalities and Municipal Corporations, pertaining to manual scavenging work undertaken in the Municipalities and the Corporations.

However, the Court didn't receive any response from the State, and it was submitted that information had been sought from the Districts and it may take some time to collect the information.

To this, the Court remarked,

"This petition has been pending from 2017 and there is no doubt that each time the matter has come up, the Court has stressed on the immediate need to stop the inhuman practice which amounts to exploitation of a particular class which has suffered for generations."

Significantly, the Court also observed,

"Young men belonging to such communities, in desperation and the lure of quick bucks, undertake the risky exercise of entering underground pits and are quickly engulfed by carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide or like toxic fumes that leave them little scope to turn around and escape."

Noting that the Municipalities and Corporations may have stopped directly engaging manual scavenging work, the Court observed that the contractors are engaged for the purpose and Corporation and Municipal officials look the other way, while manual scavengers are still sent down the pits to carry filth on their heads as they come up.

Further, the Court issued a direction for the states that,

"It must be made clear by the appropriate department of the State to all heads of Municipal Corporations and Municipalities in the State that any manual scavenging death within the jurisdiction of the relevant Municipality or Corporation will result in the Commissioner or Chairperson or the like controlling authority of the relevant body to face criminal charges and be subjected to immediate arrest."

Lastly, the Court also directed the respondents to ensure that the compensation is immediately reached to the appropriate heirs of the deceased manual scavengers.

With these directions, the matter was listed for further hearing on Tuesday (06th April).

In related news, the Karnataka High Court in December 2020 issued several directions to the state government to ensure proper implementation of the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty, while hearing a petition filed by All India Council of Trade Unions(AICTU) and High Court Legal Services Committee, observed,

"There can be no dispute that our Constitutional philosophy does not permit any form of manual scavenging. The 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."

Again, this month itself, the Karnataka High Court 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 equipment.

The Karnataka High Court last month suggested to the State government to consider issuing a general direction to all authorities and agencies and instrumentalities of the state for implementation of Rule 3, of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013. 

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