Gujarat HC Issues Notice to State Govt on Plea Seeking Steps to Prevent Deaths of Sanitation Workers

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the state government over a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking steps to prevent deaths of sanitation workers and compensation to the families of those who had died while cleaning drainage lines and septic tanks.

The division bench of acting Chief Justice A J Desai and Justice Biren Vaishnav issued a notice returnable on May 1, 2023 over a plea filed by NGO Manav Garima.

The petitioner claimed that the state government had failed to implement provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and sought the court’s direction for its proper implementation.

The high court had in 2016 directed the government to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation to the families of each deceased sanitation workers on the PIL by the NGO. However, so far compensation has not been paid to the families of 26 out of 152 workers who died between 1993 and 2014, and 16 who died after the main petition was filed in 2016, it said.

Though section 7 of the 2013 Act prohibits local authorities or their agencies to engage people for hazardous cleaning of sewer in underground drainage lines or septic tanks, they have continued to do so, causing several deaths, the plea stated.

As many as 45 incidents have taken place, where 95 workers lost their lives while cleaning septic tanks, it claimed.

“This fact itself shows that the State has miserably failed to enforce section 7 of the Act in letter and spirit. It is pertinent to point out that in most of the cases, no offence is registered under section 7 or 9 of the Act,” it said.

As per the plea, in 2014, the government had issued guidelines imposing prohibition on cleaning of sewage from underground drainage to prevent deaths of workers, while in 2019, it directed local bodies to ensure that no person is permitted to enter manholes for cleaning drainage lines or septic tanks.

The state government also entrusted responsibility to the nodal officer or chief officer to ensure total prohibition of employment of manual scavengers in their respective areas and to initiate criminal action against offenders, the plea said.

None of the municipal corporations have till date constituted emergency response sanitation units (ERSUs), for which the state government had passed a resolution in 2021 to ensure that the cleaning operation is carried out using machines and no person is forced to enter into drainage lines for cleaning manually, it said.

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