Madras High Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the Tamil Nadu government while stating that the municipal commissioners should be booked for culpable homicide in case of any death in the future due to manual scavenging.
The division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy expressed their inclination to issue new guidelines which can put the practice to an end. “We can issue some guidelines and put a complete end to this nonsense,” the High Court said.
Chief Justice Banerjee said that the court is inclined to fix the responsibility of any death in the future resulting due to manual scavenging on the heads of corporations or municipal authorities. He also said that those officials will be booked regardless of the fact whether manual scavengers were knowingly hired or hired by a contractor.
The High Court also directed the State government to either make arrangements for the tailor-made machines to work in the sewers or change the sewer system to avoid manual scavenging. The court also raised questions that the State appears reluctant to spend money on such changes.
The division bench was hearing a bunch of petitions along with the petition filed by NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan against manual scavenging.
Government Pleader Jayaprakash Narayan, appearing for the State government assured the bench that funds have been allotted to arrange such machinery to avoid the exploitation of the humans. He also submitted that the responsibility of the deaths of the labourers can be fixed on the contractors. Jayaprakash Narayan further added that the work of those contractors should be cancelled and may be blacklisted for engaging humans to do manual scavenging.
Taking note of the NGO’s submission that they need more time to pursue the replies of the State government and Chennai Corporation, the bench has adjourned the matter for two weeks.
Advocate Srinath Sridevan, representing the NGO, showed his gratitude towards the High court’s approach towards tackling this issue and stated that there have been no deaths due to manual scavenging after the High Court’s March 16 order.
“For once they fear for their own skins… this the chilling effect we hoped for. There has been no deaths since your Lordships’ last order,” said Sridevan.
“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,” said March 16 order of Madras High Court.
Justice Banerjee also asked the State government to come up with some viable suggestions to curb the practice and said, “These are not adversarial matters, suggest what would stop this practice. You are better experienced. If you suggest certain things, we can incorporate in the guidelines.”
Earlier, the NGO had submitted there have already been six deaths this year due to manual scavenging as of February 2021. It was also pointed out that deaths due to manual scavenging are often explained away as mere accidents such as from a slip and fall, owing to which FIRs are not registered.