27 July 2023 2:54 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, why the states have not taken action on implementation of the Act.A Division Bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing the matter During the course of the hearing Amicus Curiae appointed by the...
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, why the states have not taken action on implementation of the Act.
A Division Bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar was hearing the matter
During the course of the hearing Amicus Curiae appointed by the Court Adv. K Parameshwar pointed out that only 5 states have so far constituted a state level survey committee as required under the Act. These states include Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The Amicus Curiae also submitted that Safai Karamchari Commission has repeatedly pointed out that vigilance committees at different levels have not been constituted as per the Act. Even the ones that have been constituted have not met in 3-4 years, the Amicus Curiae pointed out.
Justice Ravindra Bhat asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati
“Why are the states not taking action? Think of a mechanism where the states can report to the Union. We can mandate the committees to be constituted within 2 months and each of them will report to the Ministry of Social Justice. We can also mandate that they meet atleast once a month.”
To this, the ASG responded that a draft will be submitted before the Court with suggestions of directions to be issued to states. The Amicus Curiae suggested that the central monitoring committee be empowered to coordinate between states.
In the previous hearing, the ASG had informed the Court that the Central Monitoring Committee had met on 05.07.2023 as per the Court’s directions. Today Justice Aravind Kumar told ASG Bhati, ‘We saw the list of participants in the 5th July meeting, most states have not participated.’
‘We will direct Chief Secretaries of States to ensure participation and also file compliance reports.’ Justice Bhat suggested in this regard.
K Parameshwar also submitted that statutorily 'hazardous cleaning' has been divorced from the practice of 'manual scavenging', and some of the gaps in the Act regarding this may need to be bridged by the Court. The difference between the two is not constitutionally sound, he argued. The considerable problem in urban areas today is of 'hazardous cleaning' he stated. “I do not see how they can be on any lesser footing in terms of their plight compared to manual scavengers. Ultimately they have also lost their lives. ”, he said.
He also pointed out that the problem with the Act is that there is no one nodal agency in the State or in the district to take care of sewer deaths.
“To force a person to enter a manhole, without protective gear, knowing very well the kind of noxious fumes in it, the health hazard that it is, is nothing but forced labour, which is a constitutional prohibition. The factor to identify whether its forced labour or not, is dignity. The identifying factor is not whether he’s paid 1000 rupees to enter the manhole without protective gear.” the Amicus Curiae added.
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.
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 cash 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