Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: In a petition filed by Shramik Janata Sangh (petitioner 1), an association espousing the cause of manual scavenging workers and father (petitioner 2) of such a worker who has died while manual scavenging seeking amendment in the previous order to incorporate details of this unfortunate death and claim for payment of compensation, a Division Bench of Nitin Jamdar and M.M. Sathaye, JJ. directed the Secretary of the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance to file a reply affidavit regarding the fulfillment of requisites of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (‘Act’).

An interim order was passed by the Bombay High Court, wherein the Municipal Corporation was directed to pay a compensation of Rs. 10 Lakh to the family of the deceased sewage workers under a policy of the Municipal Corporation. This petition was filed to further incorporate details of another unfortunate death of a manual scavenger.

The Court stated that this issue needs to be looked at in a ‘wider spectrum’ and the objective must be to ensure that Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 is employed in its full rigor.

Further, the Court stated that the Act was enacted to prohibit the employment of manual scavengers and provide rehabilitation for them and their families, keeping in mind Article 46 of the Constitution. It was also mentioned that the Act recognizes that manual scavenging is a dehumanizing practice that is still prevalent in various parts of the country. The Court, while mentioning a few provisions of the Act said that under Section 17, the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure that insanitary latrines are eliminated supersedes any other laws in force and that awareness campaigns must be created to prevent construction, maintenance, or usage of any insanitary latrine.

The Court said that the appropriate government has the authority to assign powers and duties to ensure proper implementation of this Act. Further, the Court stated that the manual scavengers identified under this Act must be rehabilitated following either Section 13 or Section 16, and those who violate these provisions will be punished accordingly.

While stating the powers of an inspector under this Act, the Court mentioned that he may enter any premises or place to examine and test any latrine, open drain, or pit and also conduct an inspection if he has reason to believe that an offense under the Act is being committed. The Court said that the Vigilance Committee, which has to be set up under Section 24 for each District and Sub-Division, is responsible for overseeing the economic and social rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Whereas the State Monitoring Committee as per Sections 26 and 27 is responsible for monitoring and providing advice to the State Government and local authorities to ensure effective implementation of the Act.

Further, the Court stated that since no Rules have been framed by the State of Maharashtra, the Rules framed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment namely, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013 are applicable, as per which a District Level Survey Committee is to be constituted. The Court reiterated the decision of the Supreme Court in Dr. Balram Singh v. Union of India 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1386 wherein, it was pointed out that at the State level, there would be a Core Committee that would be entrusted with the task of ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act. This Core Committee would include the State Monitoring Committee, the Vigilance Committee, the State Level Survey Committee, and the District Level Survey Committee. Thus, the Court said that it must be ensured that the statutory authorities are established as per the Act and are functional while having the requisite manpower and necessary administrative setup.

Further, the Court directed the Secretary of the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance to appoint one Nodal Officer who will call for information from all the local authorities. The District Magistrates, aforesaid Committees, and other functionalities were directed to coordinate between the said departments and the Office of the Government Pleader was directed to file a reply affidavit.

The Court directed the Secretary of the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance to file a reply affidavit on the following issues:

  • Whether State Monitoring Committee, Vigilance Committees, State Level Survey Committee, and Sub-Divisional Committee at the Divisional Level, as aforesaid, have been constituted in the State of Maharashtra

  • If they are not so constituted, what steps does the Government intend to take to constitute these committees and the time frame?

  • If they are so constituted, details of the composition of the said committees and an overview/report of the activities carried out by these committees in the year 2022-2023.

  • Information be also called from local authorities in the State of Maharashtra as to steps they have taken under Chapter II of the Act for identification, as regards the survey which they are entrusted to carry out within their jurisdiction under the Act.

  • Whether any applications have been received by the Urban Manual Scavengers for identification and rehabilitation, and the steps that such local authorities have taken, and whether any scheme has been framed. In short, the responsibilities of such local authorities under Chapter IV of the Act.

While listing the petition to report progress in respect of the directions, the Court called for information from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Thane Municipal Corporation, Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation, and Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation as a requisite of phase one.

[Shramik Janata Sangh Through Its General Secretary v. State of Maharashtra, 2024 SCC OnLine Bom 1202, Order dated 16-04-2024]

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