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~By Kunal Rao

The Delhi High Court has taken suo motu cognisance of a slew of media reports highlighting the NDMC contractual sanitation workers’ act of dumping garbage outside prominent buildings in the Lutyens’ area while demanding regularisation of jobs and better wages.

Acting on the reports, the bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice SP Garg observed:  “While the protest may be permissible, however the nature of protest certainly is questionable. As the newspaper reports contain photographs of the garbage dumped on streets. It cannot be denied that dumping of garbage would not only be detriment for the environment but would also imperil public health. Such acts are offences under the several penal provisions as well as under municipal enactments.”

According to media reports, workers dumped garbage near the R K Ashram, Gole Market, Shastri Bhawan, Rail Bhavan and several other prominent buildings. The protesting workers also dumped garbage outside NDMC’s Convention Centre. These were all sanitation workers employed on a contract basis with NDMC. The workers staged a protest, demanding regularisation of jobs and better wages. The strike was called off after the NDMC chairman Naresh Kumar assured action within a month.

The bench while examining the acts of sanitation workers said: “It attracts various penal provisions under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 causing Public Nuisance, Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life, Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life and Punishment for public nuisance in cases not otherwise provided for.”

The bench further said “Delhi Police Act, 1978 and The New Delhi Municipal Council Act, 1994 itself describes the punishments and penalties for causing public nuisances”.

Court observed with regard to the Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution of India, which cast upon all citizens that “It shall be duty of every citizen of India-to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.

The bench further added: “We find more and more instances where, in claimed enforcement of their rights or protest for perceived violations, aggrieved persons are damaging or destroying public properties and harm is being inflicted on the environment. In the present case, garbage has been dumped on public streets as a form of protest. There are several instances of damage to public property including police stations, buses, railway tracks etc. While staging of protest is recognised as a constitutional right of citizens, however such protests are even constitutionally impermissible. This issue raises several concerns of larger public interest and needs immediate intervention.”

The bench issued showcause notice to Chairman, NDMC and directed him to provide the list of the workers who were involved in the protests.

Court also issued notice to Ravindra Nath Bharti, president of the sanitation workers’ union whose name was cited in the media reports.

Further the bench directed registry to serve the copy of the order to the standing counsel, NDMC to enable him to bring the same to the notice of the Chairperson, NDMC, Naresh Kumar.

The bench fixed the next date of hearing to July 16, 2018.

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