The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned to August the hearing on a plea filed seeking initiation of criminal proceedings against officials, agencies, contractors or any other person involved in engaging or employing manual scavengers resulting in their death at work.
A three-judge Bench of CJI Bobde, Justice Bopanna and Justice Ramasubramanian was considering a PIL filed by "Criminal Justice Society of India" which also prays for directions to the governments to bring on record the actual number of persons engaged in manual scavenging and also a number of persons who have died since 1993 while working as manual scavengers so that FIRs can be registered in all such cases.
During the hearing, Adv Ashima Mandla appearing for the petitioner submitted before the Court that one manual scavenger dies every 5 days and the same has been authenticated by the Rajya Sabha.
Advocate Mandla further added that the Pleadings have not been completed, and Notice was issued in February 2019. There are 51 respondents and only 13 counter-affidavits have been filed.
The Bench observed that "We can't compel people to file counters, we will proceed without them. We'll draw an adverse inference against them"
The matter will be heard in the third week of August.
With one manual scavenger reportedly dying at work every five days despite India having declared manual scavenging illegal in 1993, the petitoner approached the Supreme Court seeking initiation of criminal proceedings for culpable homicide not amounting to murder against officials, agencies, contractors or any other person involved in engaging or employing manual scavengers resulting in their death at work.
The petition prays for directions to the Centre, the states and the Union Territories to bring on record the actual number of persons engaged in manual scavenging and those who died while working as manual scavengers so that FIRs can be registered in all such cases under IPC Section 304 read with IPC Section 107/ 119.
The plea has also sought directions to the Chief Divisional Personnel Officers of the Indian Railways to place on record their respective status report reflecting the number of manual scavengers engaged or employed either directly or indirectly since 1993, besides a direction to the National Human Rights Commission and Chief Secretaries of all states and Union Territories to submit a report reflecting the manual scavenger deaths that have occurred since 1993.
The plea, filed by Advocate Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, has stated that despite a prohibition on employment of persons as manual scavengers, this the age-old banished tradition continues. The Manual Scavengers are thus subjected to inhuman working conditions by being exposed to diseased sewages and pits; wherein the said scavengers are forced to work without any protective gears.
The plea has cited the judgement of the Supreme court, in the case of Safai Karmachari Andolan And Ors. v. Union of India And Ors., where it was observed that the states must work towards the rehabilitation of manual scavengers which in turn means to reduce the number of manual scavengers in the country furthermore, directing that in the event of death of a manual scavenger, the next of kin is entitled to a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh, which has to be borne by the state government.
The petition has impleaded the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, Indian Railways and all the states and Union Territories.
Recently, the Karnataka High Court issued strict directions to authorities to stop engaging manual scavengers.