The Karnataka High Court has expressed its grief over the recent deaths of two manhole workers, and another incident of a sweeper dying by suicide after being allegedly forced into manual scavenging without proper safety gear, reported LiveLaw.
A Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice AS Oka, on March 1, directed the State Government to respond to a memo filed seeking to ensure fair and proper investigation into the incident of a pourakarmika (garbage cleaner) of Maddur Town Municipality, in Karnataka who died by suicide.
As per a LiveLaw report, Advocate Clifton Rozario, appearing for the petitioner All India Central Council of Trade Union, informed the Bench that Narayana (deceased) was allegedly harassed by officials to state that he entered into the manhole voluntarily and was given essential safety equipment.
The petitioner organisation has submitted a memorandum to the Directorate of Municipal Administration, seeking for immediate action against the erring officials and for steps to be taken to compensate Narayana’s three children and wife.
Developments in the case
A petition has been filed by All India Council of Trade Unions (AICTU) and High Court Legal Services Committee seeking directions from the High Court to the State Government to furnish all details, materials, surveys, statistics related to manual scavengers in the State.
The plea also prayed to discontinue the practice of allowing/forcing sanitary workers to physically enter manholes, sewer lines, septic tanks etc and to direct the State and Union Government to give a report on the action taken by them for removal of the inhuman practice and the implementation of the provisions of the Act.
In December last year, the High Court had issued a slew of directions to the local authorities and the State to place all materials on record and to also file compliance affidavits. In addition to this, the court had also held that the practice of manual scavenging is inhuman and that it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21.
On February 2, the High Court perused the memo filed by the State and other documents and remarked that it was “crystal clear that there is absolutely no compliance with the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.” The Bench also observed that out of the 17 directions issued by it, the State only complied with one direction.
After looking at the memo filed by the petitioner and the social welfare department of Karnataka, the High Court said, “They may be right in submitting that it is only due to the failure on the part of the authorities of the State and other agencies to implement the provisions of the Manual Scavengers Act that two persons who were forced to do manual scavenging, have lost their lives.”
The petitioner organiser had apprised the court that on January 28, two manual scavengers, Lal Ahmed (30) and Rasheed Ahmed (25) had choked to death in a manhole at Kailas Nagar of Kalaburagi in Karnataka. The third worker, who survived, was taken to the hospital in a serious condition.
The three of them worked as labourers with Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB) who were made the twelfth respondent in this case. The Court, on February 10, considered the Action Taken Report submitted by KUWSDB, and directed the State Government to produce a report on the investigation in FIR registered on January 28 with Kalaburagi City Police Station.
On February 17, the court sharply criticised KUWSDB and said, “The twelfth respondent will have to explain to the Court how the said respondent has prejudged the issue by stating in the show cause notice issued to its officers that the death was due to an accidental fall in the manhole.”
The High Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar recorded the report on the investigation by the learned Additional Government Advocate that stated that four alleged accused persons have been apprehended, and the fifth one is absconding. The court also said, “The State Government must expedite the submission of a report of the Forensic Science Laboratory.”
Finally, the court also directed the KUWSDB to place on record the compliance with the assurance given to provide outsourced employment to the spouses of the deceased on compassionate grounds.
The orders may be read here: