The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the Maharashtra government if it had carried out a survey identifying manual scavengers across the state and what steps it had taken to rehabilitate them.
A division bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar sought to know how many manual scavengers had died at work since 1993 and if the state government had awarded compensation to their family members.
Three decades after the abolition of manual scavenging, the court reiterated that the Maharashtra government has the responsibility and liability to ensure that the shameful practice is not carried out anywhere in the state.
“The Act of 2013 has clearly stated that all state governments have to ensure that manual scavenging is completely eradicated from society. However, despite such strict legislative intent, this shameful practice continues, and this should shock the collective conscience of society,” the court said.
Considering the importance of the issue, the court said it should monitor the case to ensure that justice is dispensed.
“The state government is liable and responsible to ensure that an end is put to this practice. 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 society to carry out the hazardous job of cleaning septic tanks,” the court added.
The court was hearing a petition filed by three women, whose husbands were employed as manual scavengers.
Advocate Isha Singh, appearing for the petitioners, stated that the three men had died while cleaning a septic tank at a private society in Mumbai's Govandi area in 2019.
The petitioners had sought compensation from the government as per the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act.
The court on Friday directed the Mumbai suburban collector to pay each of the petitioners a compensation of Rs 10 lakh.
“The amount shall be recovered by the Collector from the person or entity responsible for the death of the petitioners' husbands. The amount has to be paid within a period of four weeks,” the court said.
The court has directed the Maharashtra government to submit all information it has sought on October 18, the next date of the hearing.
The bench also sought to know the status of the FIR lodged by the Govandi police station in the case of the deaths of the petitioners' husbands.