Observing that it was the responsibility and liability of the Maharashtra government to ensure that shameful practice of manual scavenging was not carried out anywhere in the state, the Bombay High Court has directed the government to pay Rs 10 lakh each to widows of three scavenger workers who died while cleaning a septic tank in 2019.
A division bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar observed: “The state government is liable and responsible to ensure that an end is put to this (manual scavenging) practice. Several courts including the Supreme Court have held from time to time that manual scavenging is a humiliating and shameful method of employing people from the lower strata of the society to carry out the hazardous job of cleaning septic tanks.”
The HC has asked the government whether it had conducted any survey to identify manual scavengers across the state after the enactment of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act in 2013 and whether steps were taken towards their rehabilitation.
Besides, the court has also asked to give details of how many manual scavengers have died at work since the year 1993 and whether the state government has awarded any compensation to their family members.
The HC was hearing a petition filed by three women, whose husbands were employed as manual scavengers and had died in December 2019 while cleaning a septic tank at a private society in suburban Govandi.
The petition stated that the government be directed to compensate them as per the provisions of the Act.
On Friday, the HC directed the Mumbai suburban Collector to pay each of the petitioner a sum of Rs 10 lakh by way of compensation within four weeks.
“The amount shall be recovered by the Collector from the person or entity responsible for the death of the petitioners’ husbands. The amount has to be paid within a period of four weeks,” said the court.
Additional government pleader Poornima Kantharia informed the court that the company, which had hired the victims, had deposited three cheques of Rs 1.25 lakh for each of the petitioner women after the incident.
The HC has asked the government to hand over those cheques to the petitioner women and also directed that the remainder amount be paid by the Collector.
During the hearing, the judges observed that considering the importance of the issue it (court) will monitor the same to ensure that justice is dispensed.
“The Act of 2013 has clearly stated that all state governments have to ensure that manual scavenging is completely eradicated from the society. However, despite such strict legislative intent, this shameful practice continues and this should shock the collective conscience of the society,” observed the HC.
The judges have also asked for the status of the FIR lodged by the Govandi police station in the case of the petitioners’ husbands’ deaths.
The Maharashtra government has been directed to submit all information on the next date of hearing on October 18.