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Karnataka High Court flays state govt on non-implementation of Act against manual scavenging

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The Karnataka High Court came down heavily on the state government and the Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Development Corporation, for not taking steps to implement the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 on a “war footing”, and to report compliance with the order within a period of three months.

A Single-Judge Bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit expressed disappointment at the enormous delay in implementing the socio-welfare law enacted by Parliament, which he said, was for the benefit of the oppressed classes, who have no choice but to engage in manual scavenging, which was a degradation of basic human value and dignity.

“Permitting such a job is abhorrent to the notions of civility and core human value… though nearly a decade has lapsed since making this statute, its benefits are eluding the concerned section of society because of apathy of the quarters that be. Tolerating this callousness attributable to the authorities virtually amounts to tacitly contributing to the continuation of this practice of manual scavenging, thereby placing premium on the violation of the law,” the Court observed.

The order was passed on a batch of petitions filed by citizen litigants belonging to the oppressed classes, who stated that the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 was not being implemented.

Additional Government Advocate B.V. Krishna, appearing for the state, opposed the petitions, arguing that the State of Karnataka has done everything to implement the Act, and lapses if any, are the fault of the implementing authority – the Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Development Corporation, the second respondent in the case.

The state government cannot be blamed for this, he said.

Advocate SV Giri Kumar, who appeared on behalf of the second respondent, said the Managing Director of the Corporation had already issued two orders to implement the Act. He also said that certain unscrupulous members of the community were making spurious claims, which needs an enquiry, so that the benefits of the Act reach the right people.

Referring to the decision of the Supreme Court in Safai Karamchari Andolan & Ors vs Union of India & Ors, the High Court noted that the authorities had been directed to identify all persons who have died in sewerage work such as manholes and septic tanks since 1993 and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each death to the family as compensatory rehabilitation.

The Apex Court further stated that duty is cast on all States and Union Territories to fully implement the Act.

The Court did not accept the contentions of the respondents, saying they were trying to play a ‘blame game’ against each other.

The Managing Director of the Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Development Corporation has only issued two orders, and done nothing else, the Court noted.

The Court disposed of the petitions, directing the respondents to take all steps to implement the Act and report their compliance to the Registrar General of the Court within three months.

The Court made it clear that if the respondents do not follow the directions, it would be treated as contempt of court and heavy and exemplary costs would be imposed personally on the officials responsible.

Advocate Jeevan Kumar BS appeared for the petitioner, while Advocate B VKrishna represented the State of Karnataka. Advocate S.V. Giri Kumar represented the Managing Director of the State Safai Karmachari Development Corporation.

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