To, 27th March 2015
The President of India
‘Right of life’ continued to be denied
It has been one year since the Supreme Court judgment which while admonishing the obnoxious and inhuman practice of manual scavenging in the country had laid out an clear-cut plan for its eradication and rehabilitation of the liberated scavengers. Besides, the judgment had also put the onus of paying a hefty compensation to families of victims of sewerage deaths on the state governments. Court acknowledged the right to life for all persons including scavengers.
An year down the line we are still fighting for that right. Although we have rightly moved ahead in the direction of awarding compensations for the sewerage deaths, and 16 families have been awarded the compensation (though so far we have collected verified details of 436 deaths across country) but efforts to guarantee the ‘right to life’ still seems to be a far cry.
Supreme Court had clearly stated in its judgment that entering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For each such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased. It asked Railways to prepare time bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks. Court cautioned the authorities that persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law. Hence it asked to provide support for dignified livelihood to safai karamachari women in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes. Railways is still to come out with any time bound strategy as stipulated by the court.
In its judgment court mentioned “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”, which got the assent of the President on 18.09.2013. Court said that the practice of untouchability in general and of manual scavenging in particular was deprecated in no uncertain terms by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India. Accordingly, in Chapter III of the Constitution, Article 17 abolished untouchability as is acknowledged by 2013 Act. Similarly act also expressly acknowledges Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law) regarding rights of the persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks.
Despite this historic judgment still blatantly people are forced to go down the sewers knowingly that it can be fatal for their lives. Fact of the matter is an estimated 200 people have lost their lives in sewers during one year since the Supreme Court judgment. Hence these people have been deprived of their right to life.
Court said that Section 33 of the Act provides for duty of local authorities and other agencies to use modern technology for cleaning of sewers, etc. Section 36 of the Act provides that the appropriate Government shall, by notification, makes rules for carrying out the provisions of the Act within a period not exceeding three months. Section 37 of the Act provides that the Central Government shall, by notification, publish model rules for the guidance and use of the State Governments. Court also quoted Section 7 of the act which read, “No person, local authority or any agency shall, from such date as the State Government may notify, which shall not be later than one year from the date of commencement of this Act, engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.”
Unfortunately despite these clear cut directions from the Supreme Court none of the governments- centre as well as states had made any effort to make it possible that nobody has to go down a sewer. We have not moved even an inch in making sewage cleaning a completely mechanised process. Hence still people are engaged or employed, either directly or indirectly or forcefully, for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank. This is deplorable.
Until and unless we, besides providing compensation for every death in sewer since 1993, we start working in the direction of not letting anyone go in the sewage, we will not be following court’s decision in full letter and spirit. We demand all the governments to give a deadline, where after no person will be allowed to go down a sewer line. This has to be stated as one of the topmost priorities in front of our nation.
Safai Karmchari Andolan,
36 / 13 Ground Floor, East Patel Nagar, New Delhi – 110 008
Mob – 09311234793 , Ph-01125863166
Right to life continued to be denied – petition to the President of India
To, 27th March 2015