Kerala High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Manikumar, CJ and Shaji P. Chaly, J., heard the instant PIL regarding demand to give adequate and sufficient compensation to the workmen, who died on 13-04-014 inside the manhole of Kerala Water Authority sewerage pipeline. It was stated that when the employees were engaged in manhole of sewerage pipelines, adequate and necessary safeguards ought to taken by the Water Authority officials, so as to avoid any accident.

The petitioner relied on the order of Supreme Court in Delhi Jal Board v. National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers, (2011) 8 SCC 568, wherein the Court had issued guidelines, instructions and orders to be adhered, while workers are entering inside the manhole of sewerage pipeline for cleaning. According to the petitioner, the presence of at least an Assistant Engineer of the Kerala Water Authorities in the workplace was mandatory.

Engaging of workmen by the principal employer, Kerala Water Authority, without providing adequate and sufficient gears and tools like oxygen masks to the workers, resulted in the death of two poor workmen inside the manhole.

The Police and Fire and Rescue Service personnel, who had reached the spot, did not have the necessary required tools, to rescue the poor workmen.

Reliance was also placed by the petitioner on Safai Karamchari Andolan v. Union of India, (2014) 11 SCC 224, wherein the Supreme Court had laid down detailed directions for the upliftment of manhole workers.  The following directions were issued:

(i) The persons included in the final list of manual scavengers under Sections 11 and 12 of the 2013 Act, shall be rehabilitated as per the provisions of Part IV of the 2013 Act, in the following manner, namely:-

(a) such initial, one time, cash assistance;

(b) their children shall be entitled to scholarship

(c) allotment of a residential plot and financial assistance for house construction, or a ready-built house with financial assistance;

(d) at least one member of their family, shall be given  training in livelihood skill and shall be paid a monthly stipend during such period;

(e) at least one adult member of their family, shall be given, subsidy and concessional loan for taking up an alternative occupation on sustainable basis;

(f) shall be provided such other legal and programmatic assistance, as the Central Government or State Government may notify in this behalf.

(ii) If the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to a close and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers would need to include:-

(a) Sewer deathsentering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations. For each such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased.

(b) Railways – should take time bound strategy to end manual scavenging on the tracks.

(c) Persons released from manual scavenging should not have to cross hurdles to receive what is their legitimate due under the law.

(d) Provide support for dignified livelihood to safai karamchari women in accordance with their choice of livelihood schemes.

(iii) Identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work since 1993 and award compensation of Rs.10 lakhs for each such death to the family members depending on them.

(iv) Rehabilitation must be based on the principles of justice and transformation.  

In the light of pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Safai Karamchari Andolan case the Bench ordered the state to pay compensation of Rs 10,00,000 each, to the family members of the persons, who died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks). Court, within a period of two months in addition to Rs 4,00,000 which had been already paid to the wives of the deceased.[Baisil Attippety v. Kerala Water Authority, WP(C) No. 11185 of 2014, decided on 18-03-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Appearance before the Court by:

For the petitioner: Adv. K.P. Pradeep

For the respondents: Sr. Adv. P. Benjamin Paul, Sr. GP. V. Tek Chand and Sr. Adv. Millu Dandapani

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