The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the State government to file an affidavit in a Public Interest Litigation filed by Advocate Abha Singh highlighting deaths of sewage workers in and around Mumbai alleging violation of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
Division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice SP Tavade posted the matter for further hearing to January 29, 2020.
The petitioner has contended that repeated cases of deaths of sewage workers is being reported in newspapers.
"The alarming frequency of deaths indicates that the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR Act, 2013) and the rules made thereunder (PEMSR Rules, 2013) are not being complied with", the PIL states.
In a letter dated October 1, 2018, Chief Engineer (sewerage operation), MCGM replied to the petitioner's RTI application stating that no death, casualties and injuries have been caused or happened in the concerned department from the year 2014 to that day.
Petitioner had sought information of deaths, casualties and injuries caused to sewage and septic tank workers in Mumbai.
The PIL cites an article of the Hindustan times dated May 5, 2019 that reports how three people died while cleaning the septic tank of a residential building in Nalasopara, a Mumbai suburb. Then, six days later on May 11, 2018, an article in the Times of India reported death of three sanitation workers in the septic tank of a building in Dhokali area in Thane.
The petitioner alleged that local authorities in all these cases, have failed to discharge the duty bestowed upon them by Section 33 of the PEMSR Act as the death of sewage tank cleaners took place because they were forced to descend into these dangerous zones which were filled with noxious gases and toxic substances. Furthermore, in not a single instance, modern suction machines and other appliances used.
Supreme Court in Safai Karamchari Andolan vs Union of India & Ors. held -
"If the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to a close and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to include:-
Sewer Lines- entering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For each such death, compensation of INR 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased."
However, PIL points out that the families of victims whose deaths have been reported, have not been compensated.
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