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The Supreme Court today disposed of a plea seeking protective gear and dedicated COVID-19 tests for Safai Karamcharis (sanitation workers) in the face of the pandemic.
The Bench headed by Justice NV Ramana asked the petitioner to approach the Delhi High Court for any specific case and not to make “sweeping statements” that sanitation workers were dying across the country due to the novel Coronavirus.
The plea by social activist Harnam Singh, represented by Advocate Mehmood Pracha, stated that sanitation workers were performing the essential service of cleaning and handling household waste without any protective gear. This, while not being aware whether or not they were working in areas which had Coronavirus infected patients.
The Supreme Court sought to know about the particulars of such cases.
Pracha responded that Safai Karamcharis were the least protected, and that “they were dying.”
“One died in Madhya Pradesh and the other died in Mumbai. Press reports are there and I have attached one such report which substantiates the plea.”
To this, Justice Ramana said,
“For any specific case, go to the Delhi High Court.”
However, Pracha insisted on filing an affidavit detailing how deaths were happening across the country. At this point, Justice Ramana said,
“Do not make sweeping statements,” and disposed of the plea.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured the Court that there are helpline numbers to allay such concerns.
In his petition, Singh had contended that if the sanitation workers are not provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), then it is a grave violation of their fundamental right to life.
The plea stated that such sanitation workers mostly reside in clusters and that if one of them gets infected, the whole cluster would catch the virus.
Further, the plea states that a combined reading of The Prohibition of Employment As Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013 “makes it amply clear that cleaning of sewers or septic tanks without protective gear amounts to hazardous cleaning and attracts penal consequences".
The petitioner had prayed that all governments be directed to ensure that agencies undertaking sanitation facilities including municipal boards, Panchayats, Railway cantonment boards, railway authorities, have safai karamcharis in equipped with COVID-19 PPE, which include “long sleeved gowns, boots, masks, googles and face shield”.