The Bombay High Court has directed the District Collector of Mumbai Suburban to award a compensation of ₹10 lakh each to widows of three deceased manual scavengers who had passed away while cleaning a septic tank in Mumbai.
A Bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar also directed the Maharashtra government to ensure that the "shameful practice of manual scavenging" is discontinued at the earliest.
"Despite strict legislative intent, this shameful practice continues and this should shock the collective conscience of the society,” the Bench remarked.
Their husbands had died while cleaning a septic tank which indicated that the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSRA) were not complied with, their plea highlighted.
The petition filed by advocate Isha Singh emphasised that "due to gross violation of law on the Maharashtra government's part, the petitioners lost their primary breadwinners and were rendered without livelihood jeopardising the family's future".
The Court said that several courts including the Supreme Court have held from time to time that "manual scavenging is a humiliating and shameful method of employing people from the lower strata of the society to carry out the hazardous job of cleaning septic tanks".
"Despite such strict legislative intent, this shameful practice continues and this should shock the collective conscience of the society,” the Court remarked reminding the State of its responsibility to ensure that the practice is stopped.
The Bench directed the Collector of Mumbai Suburban to ensure that the compensation amount is paid to the petitioners within 4 weeks.
Government pleader Poornima Kantharia informed the Court that the company which had hired the deceased labourers had already deposited cheques of ₹1.25 lakh for each widow after the unfortunate incident.
The Court directed that the cheques be handed over to the widows and said that the remaining amount must be handed over by the Collector within the stipulated time.
During the course of hearing, the Bench mused whether the Maharashtra government has conducted any survey yet to identify manual scavengers in the State after enactment of PEMSRA.
The Court also enquired about the number of workers who died since 1993 (after manual scavenging had been abolished) and if any compensation has been granted or rehabilitation undertaken for their family members.
The Bench further asked the State to apprise them about the status of the first information report (FIR) lodged by police in relation to the present deaths.
The Court also declared that considering the importance of the issue, it would keep the matter pending to monitor the same to ensure that justice is done.
It, therefore, directed the State to submit the information sought by them by October 18, 2021.