Observing that a large segment of India’s population, involved in manual scavenging, has remained unheard and muted in bondage and systematically trapped in inhumane conditions, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre and states to take appropriate measures, frame policies, and issue directions to ensure that manual sewer cleaning is completely eradicated in a phased manner.
The top court has asked the Centre to issue guidelines and directions that any sewer-cleaning work outsourced or required to be discharged by or through contractors or agencies do not require individuals to enter sewers for any purpose whatsoever.
Issuing a slew of directions, a bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat (since retired) and Aravind Kumar asked the central and state governments to pay Rs 30 lakh as compensation to the next of kin of those who die while cleaning sewers.
“The court hereby directs the Union and the states to ensure that the compensation for sewer deaths is increased (given that the previous amount fixed, that is, Rs 10 lakh, was made applicable in 1993). The current equivalent of that amount is Rs 30 lakh.
“This shall be the amount to be paid by the concerned agency, that is, the Union, the Union Territory, or the state, as the case may be. In other words, compensation for sewer deaths shall be Rs 30 lakh. In the event the dependents of any victim have not been paid such an amount, the above amount shall be payable to them. Furthermore, this shall be the amount to be hereafter paid as compensation,” the bench said.
The top court directed all the states and Union territories to make sure that all departments, agencies, and corporations ensure that the guidelines and directions framed by the Centre are embodied in their own guidelines and directions.
“The Union, states, and Union territories are directed to ensure that full rehabilitation (including employment for the next of kin, education for the wards, and skill training) measures are taken in respect of sewage workers and those who die,” it said.
The apex court also directed that, in the case of sewer victims suffering from any disability, the minimum compensation shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh.
If the disability is permanent and renders the victim economically helpless, the compensation shall not be less than Rs 20 lakh, it said.
“The appropriate government (that is, the Union, states, or Union territories) shall devise a suitable mechanism to ensure accountability, especially wherever sewer deaths occur in the course of contractual or ‘outsourced’ work. This accountability shall be in the form of cancellation of contract, forthwith, and imposition of monetary liability, aimed at deterring the practice.
“The Union shall devise a model contract, to be used wherever contracts are to be awarded by it or its agencies and corporations, in the concerned enactment, such as the Contract Labour (Prohibition and Regulation Act), 1970, or any other law, which mandates that the standards—in conformity with the Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and rules—are strictly followed, and in the event of any mishap, the agency would lose its contract and possibly (invite) blacklisting,” it said.
The National Commission for Safai Karamchari (NCSK), the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and the secretary of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment shall, within three months, draw up the modalities for the conduct of a national survey. The survey will ideally be completed in the next year, the court said.
“To ensure that the survey does not suffer the same fate as the previous ones, appropriate models shall be prepared to educate and train all concerned committees. The Union, states, and Union territories are hereby required to set up scholarships to ensure that the dependents of sewer victims (who have died or might have suffered from disabilities) are given meaningful education,” it clarified.
The top court directed that the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) also be part of the consultations towards framing the aforesaid policies.
“It shall also be involved in coordination with the state and district legal services committees for the planning and implementation of the survey. Furthermore, the NALSA shall frame appropriate models (in the light of its experience in relation to other models for disbursement of compensation to victims of crime) for easy disbursement of compensation.
“The Union, states, and Union territories are hereby directed to ensure coordination with all the commissions (NCSK, NCSC, and NCST) for setting up state-level and district-level committees and commissions in a time-bound manner. Furthermore, constant monitoring of the existence of vacancies and their filling shall take place,” it said.
The NCSK, NCSC, NCST, and Union governments are required to coordinate and prepare training and education modules for information and use by district and state-level agencies under the 2013 Act, the bench said.
“A portal and a dashboard containing all relevant information, including information relating to sewer deaths and victims and the status of compensation disbursement, as well as rehabilitation measures taken and existing and available rehabilitation policies, shall be developed and launched at an early date,” it added.
The top court’s judgment came on a PIL seeking directions to the Centre and states to implement the provisions, inter alia, of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, and the Act of 2013.