06/14/2024

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Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2014) 

This article is written by Almana Singh. It deals with a thorough analysis of the judgement given in the case of Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. v. Union of India concerning its facts, issues raised, arguments made, as well as the concerned legal provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and the Constitution of India. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

As of December 5, 2023, the written reply by the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Mr. Ramdas Athawale, revealed a significant development in India’s fight against manual scavenging: out of 766 districts across the country, 714 have declared themselves free from this degrading practice of manual scavenging. This practice was outlawed in India under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and has been a longstanding issue addressed by the courts, notably in the case of Safai Karmchari Andolan v. Union of India (2014). In this pivotal case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court issued guidelines for the full implementation of the said Act, shedding light on the challenges and injustices faced by manual scavengers. 

This article delves into the facts, issues raised, arguments presented, and judgement rendered in the Safai Karmchari case, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of the struggle against manual scavenging in India.

Details of the case 

  1. Case name: Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors.
  2. Petitioners: Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors.
  3. Respondent: Union of India and Ors.
  4. Court: Supreme Court of India
  5. Type and case no.: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 583 of 2003 with Contempt Petition (Civil) No. 132 of 2012 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 583 of 2003
  6. Date of Judgement: 27 March 2014
  7. Bench: The then Chief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, and Justice N.V. Ramana
  8. Equivalent citations: (2014) 11 SCC 224; AIR 2014 SC (SUPP) 280; [2014] 4 SCR 197; 2014 SCC OnLine SC 262
  9. Provisions and statutes involved: Articles 14, 17, 21, 32, and 47 of the Constitution of India and Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

Facts of Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2014) 

In December 2003, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, in collaboration with six other civil society organisations and seven individuals from the manual scavenging community, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Article 32 of the Constitution. Petitioners requested a writ of mandamus directing the Union of India, State Government, and Union Territories to strictly enforce the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. They are also seeking the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 17, 21, and 47 of the Constitution of India. Petitioners sought to direct the respondents to adopt and implement the Act to formulate detailed plans, on a time-bound basis, for the complete eradication of the practice of manual scavenging and rehabilitation of persons engaged in such practice. 

Background

The inhumane practice of manually removing night soil, which entails using bare hands, brooms, or metal scrapers to clean human excrement from dry toilets, is commonly known as “manual scavenging” and remains widespread in India. Surveys conducted by petitioners in the present case estimate that over 12 lakh manual scavengers are still undertaking this inhumane practice. Official statistics from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for the years 2002-2003 report the number of identified manual scavengers at 6,76,009. Of these, 95% are Dalits (persons belonging to Scheduled Castes), who are forced to perform this degrading work under the guise of a “traditional occupation”. 

A sub-committee of the task force established by the Planning Commission in 1989 estimated that there were 72.05 lakh dry latrines in the country. The National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation was set up in February 1989, including Safai Karamcharis, for their economic development. The Government of India created the “Low-Cost Sanitation for the Liberation of Scavengers” Scheme in 1989. This centrally sponsored scheme aims to eliminate manual scavenging by converting existing dry latrines into low-cost, water-pour flush latrines and constructing new sanitary latrines. To eliminate this practice, the “National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and Their Dependents” was launched by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in March 1992, aiming to identify, liberate, and rehabilitate scavengers. Following the recommendations from the National Seminar on Rural Sanitation in September 1992, the Government of India adopted a new strategy in March 1993. The focus shifted towards the provision of hygiene latrines, which involved building individual ones for households below the poverty line. These households received subsidies covering up to 80% of the Rs. 2500 unit cost. In 1993, Parliament passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act. The Act passed in July 1993 and remained inactive for three and a half years before being enforced in 1997. Initially, it applied to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tripura, West Bengal, and all Union Territories. The other states were expected to adopt the Act later by passing a resolution under Article 252 of the Constitution. 

However, the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, a statutory body, reported in its combined 3rd and 4th Reports that the 1993 Act was not being implemented effectively. They estimated that there were 96 lakh dry latrines and 5,77,228 manual scavengers in the country. They also noted that manual scavengers were being employed in military engineering works, the army, public sector undertakings, and Indian Railways. In 2003, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted a report evaluating the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and Their Dependents. The conclusion was that the scheme had failed to achieve its objective after 10 years and an investment of over Rs 600 crore. The report highlighted the lack of coordination between “liberation” and “rehabilitation,” and there was no evidence that those liberated were rehabilitated.

Laws involved in Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2014)

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 

The provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as “the 2013 Act” or “the Act”) have been explained chapter-wise below for thorough perusal.

Objectives of the Act

The purpose of this Act is to prohibit the employment of manual scavengers, ensure the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families, and address related matters. It is founded on the principle of promoting fraternity and assuring the dignity of every individual, as outlined in the Preamble of the Constitution. The Act aims to rectify the historical injustices and indignities endured by manual scavengers, striving to rehabilitate them into lives of dignity. 

Chapter I

Chapter I of the Act includes, among other things, definitions of terms such as “hazardous cleaning”, “insanitary latrine,” and “manual scavenger” as outlined in Sections 2(1)(d), 2(1)(e), and 2(1)(g), respectively. 

The term “manual scavenger” refers to a person who is employed, either at the commencement of this Act or at any time after, to manually clean, carry, dispose of, or handle human excreta. This includes working in insanitary latrines, open drains, pits, railway tracks, or other places specified by the central or state government before the excreta has fully decomposed. The employer may be an individual, a local authority, an agency, or a contractor. 

The explanation of Section 2(1)(g) encompasses both regular and contractual work. Additionally, a person who cleans excreta using devices and protective gear specified by the Central Government is not classified as a “manual scavenger.”

Chapter II 

Chapter II of the Act outlines provisions for identifying insanitary latrines. Section 4 delineates the responsibilities of local authorities, which are as follows:

  1. Conduct a survey of insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction and publish a list of them within two months from the commencement of this Act. 
  2. Notify the occupiers of these insanitary latrines within 15 days of publishing the list, requiring them to demolish or convert these latrines into sanitary ones within six months from the commencement of this Act. This period can be extended by up to three months if there are sufficient reasons recorded in writing. 
  3. Construct the necessary number of sanitary community latrines within nine months from the commencement of this Act in areas where insanitary latrines have been identified.

Chapter III 

Chapter III of the Act includes provisions for prohibiting insanitary latrines and the employment or engagement of manual scavengers. Sections 5, 6, and 7 address these matters. 

Section 5 says, notwithstanding any conflicting provisions of the 1993 Act, no one can construct an insanitary latrine. No one can employ or engage a manual scavenger, directly or indirectly. Anyone currently employed must be immediately discharged from such duties. 

  1. Every insanitary latrine existing at the commencement of this Act must be demolished or converted into a sanitary latrine by the occupier at their own expense within the period specified in Section 4(1)(b). If there are multiple occupiers of an insanitary latrine, the responsibility to demolish or convert it lies with:
    1. The owner of the premises, if one of the occupiers is the owner; and 
    2. All occupiers, jointly and individually, in all other cases. 
  2. On failure to comply with guidelines, the local authority will issue a notice to either convert or demolish the latrine. The cost will be recovered from the occupier as prescribed. 

Section 6 states that any contract, agreement, or other arrangement made prior to the commencement of this Act that involves employing someone as a manual scavenger will be terminated when this Act commences. These contracts become void, and no compensation will be provided for their termination. Despite the above, no full-time manual scavenger will be removed from their duty. Their employer must keep them on, if they are willing, with at least the same pay and give them other types of work that do not involve manual scavenging. 

Section 7 stipulates that no individual, local authority, or agency shall, from the date specified by the State Government, which must not exceed one year from the Act’s commencement, directly or indirectly engage or employ any person for the hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank. 

Section 8 and Section 9 provide penal provisions of the Act. 

  1. Section 8 states that anyone who violates the provisions of Section 5 or Section 6 shall, for the first offence, be subject to imprisonment for a term of up to one year or a fine of up to Rs. 50,000 or both. For any subsequent offence, the punishment may include imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to Rs. 1,00,000, or both. 
  2. Section 9 specifies that anyone who contravenes the provisions of Section 7 shall, for the first offence, face imprisonment for up to 2 years, a fine of up to Rs. 2,00,000, or both. For any subsequent offence, the punishment may include imprisonment for up to 5 years, a fine of up to Rs. 5,00,000, or both. 

Chapter IV 

Chapter IV of the Act encompasses provisions related to the identification of manual scavengers in both urban and rural areas, along with provisions for rehabilitation. 

Section 13 provides the rehabilitation process under which any person listed as a manual scavenger by the municipality will be rehabilitated. The procedure and other benefits are given below:

  1. Within one month, they will be provided with a photo identity card containing information about their dependent family members. Additionally, they will receive one-time cash assistance, as prescribed. 
  2. Their children will qualify for scholarships as per the relevant schemes offered by the central, state, or local governments. 
  3. They will be allocated a residential plot and offered financial assistance for house construction, or alternatively, provided with a house, contingent upon meeting eligibility criteria and expressing willingness, in accordance with pertinent schemes. 
  4. Either they or one of the adult members of his family will undergo training in a livelihood skill, receiving a monthly stipend of at least Rs. 3000 throughout the training duration, contingent upon meeting eligibility criteria and expressing willingness. 
  5. Given, subject to eligibility and willingness, subsidy and concessional loans for taking up an alternative occupation on a sustainable basis, in such a manner as may be stipulated in the relevant scheme of the Central Government, the State Government, or the concerned local authority.
  6. They will receive additional legal and programmatic support from the authorised governments. 

The District Magistrate is responsible for ensuring the rehabilitation of each manual scavenger as per the above provisions. The state governments or the District Magistrate may assign additional responsibilities to subordinate officers and municipal officers. 

Chapter V 

Chapter V of the Act addresses the implementing mechanism of the provisions enshrined under this Act. 

  • Section 17 states that regardless of any other existing laws, every local authority is responsible for ensuring, through awareness campaigns or other means, that within nine months from the commencement of this Act, no insanitary latrines are constructed, maintained, or used within its jurisdiction. If this provision is violated, action must be taken against the occupier as per Section 5(3) of this Act. 
  • Section 18 stipulates that the appropriate government can assign the necessary powers and duties to local authorities and district magistrates to ensure the proper implementation of this Act. These authorities may then designate subordinate officers to exercise these powers and perform these duties within specified local limits. 
  • Section 19 outlines the responsibilities of the District Magistrate and authorised officers. They are required to ensure that no individual is engaged or employed as a manual scavenger within their jurisdiction. Additionally, they must prevent the construction, maintenance, use, or availability of insanitary latrines. It is their duty to ensure the rehabilitation of all manual scavengers identified under this Act in accordance with Section 13 or Section 16. Furthermore, they are tasked with investigating and prosecuting individuals who contravene the provisions of Sections 5, 6, or 7 under the provisions of this Act and ensuring compliance with all applicable provisions within their jurisdiction. 
  • Section 20 pertains to the appointment of inspectors and delineates their powers. The relevant government has the authority to appoint individuals deemed suitable to serve as inspectors for the enforcement of this Act. It can also specify the local boundaries within which these inspectors will wield their authority. 

Chapter VI

Chapter VI contains Sections 21, 22, and 23 and pertains to the procedure for trial in cases of non-compliance with the provisions of this Act. 

Section 21 says the State Government can authorise an Executive Magistrate to act as a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class for trying offences under this Act. Once empowered, the Executive Magistrate will be considered a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class for the purposes of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. 

Section 22 says every offence under this Act will be cognizable and non-bailable.

Section 23 deals with offences committed by companies. If a company commits an offence under this Act, the person in charge of the company’s business at the time of the offence, along with the company itself, will be considered guilty and can be punished. If it is proven that the offence occurred with the consent, connivance, or negligence of any director, manager, secretary, or officer of the company, they will also be held responsible and punished accordingly. The term “company” refers to any corporate body or association of individuals, and in the case of a firm, “director” refers to a partner in the firm. 

Chapter VII 

Chapter VII deals with the establishment of the Vigilance and Monitoring Committee.

  • Section 24 states that each state government is required, by notification, to establish a Vigilance Committee for every district and sub-division. Each district’s Vigilance Committee must include the District Magistrate as the chairperson, serving ex-officio.
  • Section 25 pertains to the functions of the Vigilance Committee. It is to provide advice to the District Magistrate or, where applicable, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate on necessary actions to ensure proper implementation of the provisions of this Act or any rules established under it. It is tasked with overseeing the economic and social rehabilitation of manual scavengers and coordinating the efforts of all relevant agencies to facilitate sufficient financial support for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. 
  • Similarly, Sections 26 and 27 provide for the formation and functions of the State Monitoring Committee, and Sections 29 and 30 provide for the Central Monitoring Committee. 
  • Section 31 provides the functions of the National Commissions of Safai Karamcharis, which are as follows:
  1. Monitor the implementation of this Act.
  2. Investigate complaints concerning violations of the provisions of this Act and communicate its findings to the relevant authorities along with recommendations necessitating further action. 
  3. Offer advice to the central and state governments to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of this Act.
  4. Take suo-moto notice of matters relating to the non-implementation of this Act. 

Chapter VIII 

Chapter VIII of the Act encompasses miscellaneous provisions. Section 33 outlines the obligation of local authorities and other agencies to utilise modern technology for cleaning sewers, among other tasks. Section 36 stipulates that the relevant government must, within a period not exceeding three months, establish rules to facilitate the implementation of the Act. Section 37 mandates the Central Government to publish rules through notification for the guidance and utilisation by the state governments.

Article 17 of the Constitution of India

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution unequivocally abolishes “untouchability” and prohibits its practice in any form. It further stipulates that the enforcement of any disability arising from “untouchability” shall be deemed an offence punishable according to the law. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Indian Constitution, laid its foundation with a clear commitment to eradicating untouchability. He dedicated his entire life to uprooting this evil. 

However, it is unfortunate that, even after 74 years of enforcement of the constitution, the untouchability and evils of the caste system in the form of manual scavenging persist. 

Issues raised 

  1. Whether the practice of manual scavenging persists despite the implementation of 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?
  2. Whether the practice violates Article 17 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India? 

Arguments of the parties

Petitioners 

  1. Petitioners pointed out the uncertainty in the surveys conducted by the central government and by the petitioners with limited resources.
  2. Petitioners provided the Court with a survey report and contended that the practice of manual scavenging is still prevalent in India after the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
  3. Petitioners contended that the practice of manual scavenging is violative of Articles 14, 17, 21, and 47 of the Constitution of India.

Respondents

The Additional Solicitor General appearing for the respondents cited a few features of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which have been elaborated under the heading “Laws involved”.

Judgement in Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2014)

In the case at hand, the judgement was authored by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam. The Court ruled in favour of the petitioners, directing both the union and state governments to ensure full implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and its accompanying rules, along with various directives issued by the Court. The authorities were instructed to take appropriate action in cases of non-implementation or violation of the provisions outlined in the 2013 Act. 

The problem of manual scavenging persists despite the implementation of the Act 

The Court affirmed that on several occasions it has directed the Union and State Governments to take steps towards the implementation of the Act. Various orders have gradually pushed the state governments to ratify the law and appoint executive authorities under the Act. The Court observed that, due to the immense pressure from the Court, in March 2013, the Central Government announced a “Survey of Manual Scavengers”. This survey, however, was confined only to 3546 statutory towns and did not extend to rural areas. According to the “Progress Report of the Survey of Manual Scavengers and Their Dependents” dated 27.02.2014, the state’s efforts have resulted in the identification of only a small fraction of individuals engaged in manual scavenging. The Court noted that, despite limited resources, the petitioners were able to identify 1098 individuals involved in manual scavenging in the State of Bihar. However, the official progress report dated 27.02.2014 has only managed to identify 136 individuals. In the state of Rajasthan, the petitioners identified 816 scavengers, whereas the official progress report of the state only identified 46. The data gathered by the petitioners strongly indicates that the practice of manual scavenging persists without interruption. Decades after the enactment of the 1993 Act, dry latrines still continue to exist. 

Violation of fundamental rights 

Citing Article 17 of the Constitution of India, which outlaws untouchability, the Court affirmed that manual scavenging, intrinsically tied to the caste system and untouchability, persists in India, contravenes constitutional provisions, and infringes upon the fundamental rights of the Indian citizens involved in this inhumane practice. The court then referred to several international conventions to which India is a signatory. The Court further cited conventions that prohibit the practice of manual scavenging, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). 

The Court observed that, for over a decade, the Supreme Court had issued several directives and sought compliance from all States and Union Territories. As a consequence of the Court’s effective intervention, the Government of India enacted a statute, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging and support the welfare of scavengers. The Act received assent from the President on 18 September 2013. This new statute does not undermine the constitutional mandate of Article 17 or excuse the previous inaction by the governments under the 1993 Act. Instead, the 2013 Act reinforces the fundamental rights enshrined under Article 17 and Article 21 for those involved in sewage and tank cleaning, as well as those cleaning human excrement on railway tracks. The petitioner’s argument that the practice of manual scavenging contradicts the essence of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution was upheld.

Guidelines given by the Supreme Court

The Court reaffirmed the provisions given under the 2013 Act and gave a set of guidelines for proper implementation of the same in Para 23 of the judgement. The Court observed that individuals listed as manual scavengers under Sections 11 and 12 of the 2013 Act must be rehabilitated in accordance with the provisions outlined in Chapter IV of the same Act.

Below are the guidelines outlined for thorough consideration,

  1. Provision of one-time cash assistance, as prescribed.
  2. Entitlement of their children to scholarships according to the relevant schemes of the Central Government, State Government, or local authorities, as applicable.
  3. Allocation of a residential plot and financial assistance for house construction, or provision of a ready-built house with financial assistance, subject to the manual scavenger’s eligibility and willingness as per the relevant scheme’s provisions. 
  4. Provision of training in livelihood skills for at least one family member, with a monthly stipend during the training period, subject to eligibility and willingness. 
  5. Provision of subsidies and concessional loans for at least one adult family member to pursue an alternative occupation sustainably, subject to eligibility and willingness as per the relevant scheme’s provisions. 
  6. Provision of other legal and programmatic assistance as notified by the central government or state government. 

The Court added that to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging and prevent future generations from engaging in this inhuman activity, the rehabilitation of manual scavengers must include:

  1. Sewer deaths: Entering sewer lines without safety gear should be criminalised, even in emergencies. In case of a sewer death, the family of the deceased should receive compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs. 
  2. Railways: A time-bound strategy should be implemented to end manual scavenging on the tracks. 
  3. Post-release support: Persons from manual scavenging should not face obstacles in receiving their legal entitlements. 
  4. Livelihood support for women: Safai Karmchari women should receive support for dignified livelihoods, in accordance with their chosen livelihood schemes. 

Identify the families of all individuals who died performing sewage work (in manholes and septic tanks) since 1993 and provide compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs for each death to dependent family members. The Court established that rehabilitation must be grounded in the principles of justice and transformation. 

Rationale behind the judgement

While ruling in favour of the petitioners, the Court referenced various international conventions and covenants to which India is a party or signatory, all of which prohibit the inhuman practice of manual scavenging. All of the provisions cited by the Court have been briefed below for a thorough perusal. 

The Court cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) references to the below-mentioned articles. 

  • Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They possess reason and conscience and should treat others with a spirit of brotherhood. 
  • Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without any distinction based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, or any other status. 
  • Article 23(3): Everyone who works has the right to fair and favourable remuneration that ensures a dignified existence for themselves and their family, supplemented, if necessary, by additional social protection measures. 

The Court, while citing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), referred to Article 5(a), which is explained below.

Article 5(a) mandates that states take all necessary actions to alter the social and cultural behaviours of men and women, aiming to eliminate prejudices and practices that imply one sex is inferior or superior to the other or that reinforce traditional gender roles. 

The Court, while citing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), referred to Article 2, which is explained below.

Article 2 obliges states to condemn racial discrimination and commit to eliminating it while promoting understanding among all races. To achieve this:

  1. Each state must review, amend, or abolish any laws and policies that create or sustain racial discrimination. 
  2. Each state must prohibit and eradicate racial discrimination by individuals, groups, or organisations, using legislation if necessary. 

The above provisions of international covenants, which have been ratified by India, are binding on India insofar as they are not inconsistent with provisions of domestic laws. 

Critical analysis of Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2014)

The Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the petitioners marks a significant step towards eradicating the inhumane practice of manual scavenging, described as an “obnoxious practice of manual scavenging across the country, a practice squarely rooted in the concept of the caste system and untouchability”. The judgement underscores the deep-seated issue of caste-based discrimination that perpetuates this practice, violating fundamental rights and various international conventions to which India is a signatory. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, dedicated his life to eradicating untouchability, and this continuous manual scavenging undermines his efforts. The Court, in its capacity, reaffirmed the sentiments Ambedkar professed, which were integral to making the Constitution of India. 

The precedential value of the Safai Karmchari case can be seen in the judgement pronounced in the case of Rajeshwari v. State of Karnataka (2022), which deals with a series of petitions dealt with by the High Court of Karnataka. In this case, the citizens belonging to oppressed classes raised grievances over the non-implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. Despite assurances by the government and orders issued by the Managing Director of the Corporation, little progress was made in eradicating the dehumanising practice of manual scavenging. The Court, drawing on the precedent set in the Safai Karamchari Andolan case (2014), expressed deep concern over the delayed implementation of social welfare policies aimed at supporting marginalised communities. Citing the Supreme Court’s directive in the Safai Karamchari case, the Court emphasised the need for rigorous enforcement of legislative measures to ensure the eradication of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of affected individuals. The Court’s decision underscores the urgency of addressing systemic issues and holding authorities accountable for failure to uphold fundamental rights. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the judgement in the case of Safai Karmachari Andolan and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. (2014) represents a pivotal moment in India’s legal landscape, addressing the entrenched issue of manual scavenging and the violation of the fundamental rights of manual scavengers. The Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the petitioners highlights the legacy and principles upon which the Constitution of India was founded. The Court is directing both the state and union governments to fully implement the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, in conjunction with the guidelines for rehabilitation given by the Supreme Court. This signifies a step towards eradicating and dehumanising manual scavenging. Through this judgement, the Court set a precedent for future legislation and reaffirmed its commitment to social justice and human dignity.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does the term “manual scavenger” mean?

“Manual Scavenger” refers to a person who is employed, either at the start of this Act or at any time after, by an individual, local authority, agency, or contractor to manually clean, carry, dispose of, or handle human excreta. This includes working in insanitary latrines, open drains, pits, railway tracks, or other places specified by the central or state government before the excreta has fully decomposed. 

Is the practice of manual scavenging legal in India?

No, the practice of manual scavenging was considered inhumane and prohibited in India under a statutory enactment, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

What is the amount of compensation determined by the court in case of death of an individual involved in manual scavenging?

Initially, the Safai Karmchari case set the compensation for sewer deaths at Rs. 10 lakh, which was subsequently increased in the case of Dr. Balram v. Union of India (2023) to Rs. 30 lakh. 

References

  • https://www.epw.in/journal/2016/17/letters/manual-scavenging-must-end.html 
  • https://blog.ipleaders.in/detailed-study-prohibition-employment-manual-scavengers-rehabilitation-act/ 
  • https://main.sci.gov.in/jonew/judis/41346.pdf 

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