The continuation of the practice considering the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR Act) "shocks the judicial conscience, as it should the society's collective conscience," according to the bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice BP Routray.
The Court went on to say that it is inexplicable that such a heinous crime is tolerated in a democratic world ruled by a Constitution that guarantees human integrity.
The Court also cited figures from the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which show that at least 340 sanitation employees in India have died cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last five years.
The Bench took up the case in view of the tragic deaths of sanitation workers during manual scavenging at Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. In particular, two incidents drew the attention of the Court.
The High Court has now directed that the families of the sanitation workers who died in these accidents be compensated in the sum of Rs.10 lakhs each.
According to the Court, there seemed to be egregious breaches of the PEMSR Act in these cases.
According to Section 9 read with Section 10 of the PEMSR Act, the Court has ordered the State to ensure that the criminal law procedure has been initiated in relation to these two cases. After the investigation into the Cuttack incident is over, the Court will be contacted. The Court will be given a copy of the investigation findings as well as the disciplinary actions taken.
As a result, the Court has also ordered that the State investigate whether any of the victims are from the SC or ST communities so that the relevant provisions of the SC/ST Act and Rules can be invoked.
In addition, the suo motu situation would not be limited to the two recent cases that have come to light, it would apply to all deaths caused by manual scavenging since 1993, the bench said
By the next hearing, the Court has requested affidavits from the concerned Collectorate officials confirming compliance with its orders. Odisha is required to file a separate affidavit on:
1. The measures are taken to put the PEMSR Act and its Rules, as well as the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 Act, into effect in letter and spirit.
2. Figures on sanitation worker deaths since 1993, as well as the amount of money, received in each case,
3. Have manual scavengers and/or sewer/septic tank cleaners been detected and rehabilitated?
4. If those who broke the law are convicted and sentenced in accordance with the law.
Separate affidavits must be filed to clarify why sanitation workers killed in the Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar tragedies were asked to do dangerous sewer pipe and septic tank cleaning.
Amicus curiae Bibhu Prasad Tripathy and Pami Rath has been assigned to support the Court in this case.