13 July 2023 4:24 PM GMT
The Supreme Court on Thursday, while hearing a PIL on implementation of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 asked the Centre if any schemes for rehabilitation of manual scavengers have been put in place. The Division Bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing the matter. During the course of the hearing, Justice...
The Supreme Court on Thursday, while hearing a PIL on implementation of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 asked the Centre if any schemes for rehabilitation of manual scavengers have been put in place.
The Division Bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing the matter. During the course of the hearing, Justice Ravindra Bhat asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati apart from compensation, whether any steps were being taken for rehabilitation of manual scavengers?
“Generation after generation these people are into this. What about rehabilitation? You may pay compensation of 5 to 10 lakhs, do they get into some other form of employment? Is there some scheme?” he asked.
The Court had previously directed the Union to place on record the steps taken by it to prevent the employment of manual scavengers as per the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013. The Court had asked the Centre to inform the steps taken in pursuance of the guidelines issued in the 2014 judgment “Safai Karamchari Andolan And Others vs. Union of India And Others” reported in (2014) 11 SCC 224.
ASG Aishwarya Bhati today took the Court through the practical methods adopted by the Centre and the timelines for the survey of identification of manual scavengers. The ASG also informed the Court that the Central Monitoring Committee met on 05.07.2023 as per the Court’s directions.
About the figures of the survey presented by the ASG, Justice Bhat asked why the figures were increasing despite the passing of the Act.
“From the previous survey you said only 8000 were there, in the latest one you say 44,000 are there. If you are right then after the act, the figures should have reduced. But you own figures are saying that it has increased by not less than 5 times” he said.
The ASG also informed the Court of an app launched by the centre called ‘swachhata abhayan’, where a person can upload data of insanitary latrines and manual scavenging on the app and the data is verified by the district administration.
However, Justice Bhat asked “This is left to voluntary effort. How many people wish to do it? That is an effort, but what is the state’s responsibility? What is the principal duty of the state, when it enacts this and gives effect to the directive principles?”
The Amicus Curiae appointed by the Court, K Parameshwar, also took the Court through the scheme of the Act and the latest figures. The Amicus Curiae pointed out that the broad issues that crop up as far as implementation of the Act is concerned is identification of manual scavengers, rehabilitation, compensation.
Justice Aravind Kumar asked the Amicus Curiae how the identification of manual scavenging is proposed to be done. “At the taluka level, if you ask them to conduct a survey, the figures may be doubtful. It is a win win situation for all, the person who does it, he does it for a living, so he doesn’t want to report, the beneficiaries, will lose their services. They will not report. The others may not know. How do you get over this?” he asked.
The Amicus Curiae pointed out that it was important to empower institutions for implementation of the Act. It needs to be examined how the Centre can effectively coordinate between the states and not just monitor and call for data, he said.
“One of the problems of the Act is that the authorities constituted by the Act in the Centre are only monitoring authorities. In an Act of this nature, there must be some teeth that the Central Monitoring Committee, the National Commission, must have. If we have to give effect to this act, some power must be given, not just to monitor and ask for data, but to actually implement the Act.“ the Amicus Curiae told the Court.
He also pointed out that apart from Chhattisgarh and Odissa, none of the states had constituted a state level survey committee. He also pointed out that the National Safai Karamchari Commission is only manned by 2 people currently, when it should have 7 commission members.
Justice Aravind Kumar suggested that methods to sensitise officials to the act must also be thought of.
The Court today treated the matter as part heard and posted it for further hearing to 27th July.
Previously, the Court had directed the Centre to place on record :
(I) Steps taken towards abolition/demolition of Dry Latrines, statewise.
(II) Status of Dry Latrines and Safai Karamcharies in Cantonment Boards and Railways.
(III) Employment of Safai Karamcharies in Railways and Cantonments Boards whether directly or indirectly i.e. through Contractors or otherwise.
(IV) Statewise set up of Municipal Corporation and the nature of equipment (as well as the description of technical equipment), deployed by such bodies to mechanize sewage cleaning.
(V) The feasibility of developing internet based solutions for real time tracking of sewage deaths and action taken by their concerned authorities including the appropriate Government towards payment of compensation and rehabilitation of families.
In Safai Karamchari Andolan judgment, the Court had issued a slew of guidelines for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, including casha assistance, scholarship for their children, allotment of residential plots, training in livelihood skill and monthly stipends, concessional loans etc. The judgment had also issued prescribed the minimum compensation in cases of sewer deaths and directed the Railways to end manual scavenging on tracks.
Case Title: Dr.Balram Singh vs Union of India, Writ Petition(Civil) No. 324/2020