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Madras High Court Comes Down Heavily On Practice of Manual Scavenging

Madras High Court expresses its intention to issue guidelines with a view to putting a complete end on the practice of manual scavenging.

On Wednesday, the Madras High Court expressed its intention to issue guidelines with a view to putting a complete end on the practice of manual scavenging (Safai Karamchari Andolan v Union of Inda and ors).

The Court consisting benches of Chief Justice Banerjee and Judge Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy had a number of pending petitions against manual bribery before them.

NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan was one of the petitioners, represented by Advocate Srinath Sridevan. Advocate Sridevan expressed gratitude for the Court's approach toward addressing the matter, noting that there have been no deaths as a result of manual scavenging since the Court's previous order.

Safai Karamchari Andolan had previously told the Court that six deaths had been recorded by manual scavenging since February 2021. 

Chief JusticeSanjib Banerjee with a view to putting an end to the practice of manual scavenging, said the Court was inclined to fix responsibility on the heads of corporations or municipal authorities in cases of deaths due to manual scavenging, irrespective of whether the manual scavengers were hired knowingly or by a contractor.

The Court also observed that while the direct hiring of manual scavengers by the municipal corporations may have stopped, it appeared contractors were being engaged for the purpose of hiring them, and Corporation and Municipal officials conveniently turn a blind eye.

The Court further pointed out the reluctance of the state to spend money on bringing the required changes, held that the state should either get machines built for sewage operations or reform the sewer system itself so that human labour does not have to clean them. 

Government Pleader Jayaprakash Narayan, appearing for the State, assured the Court that funds were being allotted to acquire such machinery to eliminate human exploitation. He also submitted that the responsibility can be fixed on the contractors, whose work would be cancelled and who may be blacklisted for engaging manual scavengers where deaths occur due to manual scavenging.

The court has adjourned the matter by two weeks as petitioner NGO has sought more time to peruse the replies filed by the State government and the Chennai Corporation on the issue and respond. 

Earlier, on March 16, the Court had stressed on the immediate need to stop the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, which has led to exploitation of a particular class that has suffered for generations. 

An excerpt from the March 16 order read as follows:

“It is high-time that the heads of Corporations and Municipalities are held personally liable for any death to anyone engaged in manual scavenging within their territories. It must be made clear by the appropriate department of the State to all heads of Municipal Corporations and Municipalities in the State that any manual scavenging death within the jurisdiction of the relevant Municipality or Corporation will result in the Commissioner or Chairperson or the like controlling authority of the relevant body to face criminal charges and be subjected to immediate arrest.”


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