|W.P. (C) No. 324 of 2020
|Date of Filing
|Dr. Balram Singh
|Union of India and others
Dr. Balram Singh filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition on 31 January 2023, concerning the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013 (the Acts). The petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, which sought directions to respondents to implement provisions laid out in both acts.
On the 11 June 2023, an impleadment application was filed by CLPR on behalf of Thamate, an organisation for rural empowerment. After several hearings, on the 20 October 2023, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar issued various directions to the respondents, ensuring the proper enactment of provisions in the acts to eradicate manual scavenging in India.
The judgement highlighted various issues, such as inaccuracies in surveys conducted to establish the number of people involved in manual scavenging labour as well as shortcomings in the implementation and functioning of institutions arising from the acts.
CLPR as an intervenor raised issues regarding the difference of treatment between manual scavengers and workers partaking in hazardous cleaning and requested for a purposive interpretation of the definition of manual scavenging to rationally include anyone involved in cleaning sewers and septic waste. Addressing this, the Court pronounced that without a challenge to the provisions the differentiation cannot be held as unconstitutional. However, even though the statute does not provide rehabilitation for hazardous workers, the constitutional underpinnings of the 2013 Act must work for their benefit. As such, the Court states that if a worker is utilising protective gear and cleaning waste, aside from what is prescribed in the Act and where minimum protective equipment is not provided it amounts to forced labour and they can be rehabilitated.
The judgement contained 14 directions to the respondents and a few key directions include:
- Taking appropriate measures & framing policies to ensure that manual sewer cleaning is completely eradicated in a phased manner
- The increased compensation for sewer deaths to 30 lakhs
- Appropriate governments to devise a mechanism to ensure accountability, especially where sewer deaths have occurred
- National Commission of Safaikaramcharis (NCSK), National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and the Secretary, Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment must draw modalities for the conduct of National Survey in the next 3 months which will ideally be completed in the next one year
- Relevant respondents to set up scholarships for dependants of sewer victims
The bench has provided a date for the next hearing to examine the progress made in the implementation of the directions on 01 February 2024.