“The inhuman practice of manual scavenging cannot go on and must be stopped immediately,” said Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee of the Madras High Court, as per a Bar & Bench report. The court noted that there is an element of untouchability and perpetuation of the caste system in the employment of manual scavengers.
Bar & Bench quoted the Chief Justice saying, “These are the lowest of the low. A person like you and I wouldn’t do this. We take advantage of the innocence of these people and send them down… untouchability, caste system practices – it’s the same thing. Harijans, as Gandhi called it… you get it done by those people.”
The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy was hearing a petition which was part of a batch of pending Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions moved against the practice of manual scavenging by the Safai Karamchari Andolan in the State.
According to a report in Bar & Bench, the court observed that if not directly, manual scavengers are often employed indirectly through contractors to minimise their costs or to evade responsibility for engaging such workers and this practice has been further facilitated by the State.
Noting that manual scavenging is prohibited under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, the court reportedly remarked, “Whether any manual scavenging is undertaken, directly or indirectly this must be stopped… It is inhuman. There is a statute that prohibits it. In certain cases, where all gadgets are available, you don’t need to send human beings down in pits.. Please take it very seriously… As of this moment, it has to be stopped…This can’t go on in this age!”
In the previous hearing on March 3, the Madras High Court took up the matter through an urgent application on the ground of “alleged death of six persons while undertaking manual scavenging work.”
The same Bench had commented that, “The matters complained of are extremely serious and if local bodies are found to be indulging in such practice, the officials responsible need to be hauled up and appropriately dealt with.”
While noting that the matter of the alleged death of manual scavengers on work is a serious matter, the court said that it cannot rely on baseless sheets of paper and oral submissions. It said, “Such serious matters cannot be taken note of on the basis of oral submission and sheets of paper handed over without anybody taking responsibility for what is communicated to the Court. While the Court should be lenient in dispensing with procedural roadblocks, Courts cannot be reckless in receiving sheets of paper without any basis thereto or anyone taking responsibility for the statements implied therein.”
The High Court had then directed the NGO petitioner (Safai Karamchari Andolan) to file an appropriate application before the court, acknowledging that they have taken up a “venerable cause”. During the course of the hearing on March 10, the court directed the State’s counsel to obtain necessary information from districts about the alleged violation of the Manual Scavenging Act.
The order read, “It will be the responsibility of the counsel representing the State to obtain information from all districts, including the municipalities and municipal corporation in districts pertaining to the matters complained of.”
The matter will be heard on March 16.
The orders may be read here: