A plea has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking to implead the Centre as a party to a petition for ensuring strict compliance of the 2013 law on manual scavengers to prevent loss of lives due to manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
The application referred to the recent statement of Minister of State (MoS) for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Athawale, during the 254th session of Rajya Sabha that “no such deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging” in the last five years.
Athawale made the statement in a written response to a question asked in the Rajya Sabha, by Mallikarjun Kharge and L Hanumanthaiah, on manual scavenging, the deaths due to it in the last five years, and rehabilitation of manual scavengers.
The application, which was filed by advocate and social activist Amit Sahni in his main petition seeking directions to the Delhi government to ensure strict compliance of the 2013 law on manual scavengers, is likely to come up for hearing next week.
“The Union of India is responsible both for making the policy of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and its implementation, thereafter in every State and UT which makes the Union of India a necessary party to this petition,” it said.
It claimed that the answer given by the MoS before the Upper House of the Parliament is “not only false and misleading but shows utter insensitivity and apathy” towards the departed souls of the manual scavengers, their families and others who are still into this work.
The application further said that the ministry concerned had earlier in February this year submitted that “340 deaths have been caused due to manual scavenging during the last five years” which is an antithesis to the unstarred question raised in the Upper House.
Besides the Delhi government, the high court had earlier asked municipal bodies, Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Cantonment Board and Public Works Department to file their affidavits to the petition.
The court had remarked that the government spends so much money on election advertisements and it should spend some amount on sensitising people about manual scavenging as so many people die due to this practice every year.
Another petition of 2007 relating to rehabilitation of manual scavengers is also pending in the high court which had termed as "disgraceful" the existence of manual scavenging in the city despite a law prohibiting such a practice.