The Supreme Court has pronounced its judgment today enhancing the compensation to be paid to the victims and families of manual scavengers. The Court has increased the amount to 30 lakhs to be paid to the kin of those who died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks. In case of permanent disablement or injury, the Court has provided for compensation of not less than 20 lakhs and in case of other disablements, not less than 10 lakhs. The plea filed by Dr Balram Singh, who appearing-in-person, had sought issuance of directions to implement provisions of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

The bench while pronouncing the judgment said that amongst the 14 directions, one direction is for rehabilitation of the victim and their families ensuring scholarships and other skill programs are developed. The bench further said that a direction which it missed to include but will add, that henceforth, High Courts will not be precluded from continuing to monitor the prevailing conditions. The Court further stressed on the immediate necessity to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging completely from the system.

The judgment opened with the lines of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's quote which reads, "Ours is a battle not for wealth; nor for power, ours is a battle for freedom; for reclamation of human personality".

The bench comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar further observed, "If you are to be truly equal in all respects the commitment that the Constitution makers gave to all section of the society, the entrenching emancipatory provisions such as Articles 15(2), 17, 23 and 24 each of us must live up to its promise. The Union and States are duty bound to ensure that the practice of manual scavenging is completely eradicated. Each of us owe it to this large segment of our population who have remained unseen, unheard and muted, in bondage systematically trapped in inhumane conditions...".

While continuing to highlight the basic fundamental rights and entitlements, the bench further said, "The conferment of entitlements, and placement of obligations upon the Union and States to express prohibitions in the Constitution and provision of 2013 Act mean that they are obliged to give real meaning to them and implement the provision in the letter and spirit. Upon all of us citizens lie the duty of realizing true fraternity which is at the root of these injunctions. Not without reason does our constitution lay great emphasis on the value of dignity and fraternity, for without these two liberties all others would be chimera-a promise of unreality. All of us who proudly bask in the achievements of our republic who have to awake and arise so that the darkness which has been the fate of generations for our people is dispelled, and they enjoy these freedoms and justice-social, economic and political that we take for granted…”. The bench has listed the matter for February 1, 2024.

The bench had appointed K. Parmeshwar as amicus curiae in the matter. It appreciated the efforts put in the matter by the amicus curiae. A.S.G. Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the respondent.

For the background, the Court, on noting that the Committee (formed as per the Act) comprises of more than 20 members and has not met for the last three years where even the record also disclosed that in the last ten years, the Committee met only seven times, the Court had earlier sought Centre’s response on the practical method to be undertaken by State Committees and other agencies, created by the Act, for survey, identification and complete operationalization of the Act.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court in its order dated May 2, 2023 had noted, “The mandate of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 is that within two months of its coming into force, the survey had to necessarily be conducted nation-wide to determine the identify of manual scavengers based on which the rehabilitation and other benefits were to be granted. The all India survey has not been taken, yet. One survey apparently was taken in 2018, which covered only 174 districts, which even according to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis was not in accordance with the provisions of the Act”.

Referring to the direction of the Court in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Others vs. Union of India And Others, (2014) 11 SCC 224 and the steps taken to enforce of provisions of the two Acts, the Apex Court through its order dated February 2, 2023 passed the following directions:

1. the respondent – Union shall place on record the steps taken pursuant to the judgment of this Court, viz.-a-viz. The Status of implementation of the 2013 Act i.e. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, including the steps towards rehabilitation of such persons falling within the definition of ‘Manual Scavengers’.

2. Steps taken towards abolition/demolition of Dry Latrines, state-wise.

3. Status of Dry Latrines and Safai Karamcharies in Cantonment Boards and Railways.

4. Employment of Safai Karamcharies in Railways and Cantonments Boards whether directly or indirectly i.e. through Contractors or otherwise.

5. State-wise set up of Municipal Corporation and the nature of equipment (as well as the description of technical equipment), deployed by such bodies to mechanize sewage cleaning.

6. The feasibility of developing internet-based solutions for real time tracking of sewage deaths and action taken by their concerned authorities including the appropriate Government towards payment of compensation and rehabilitation of families

Cause Title: Dr. Balram Singh v. Union of India

Click here to read/download Judgment