Even after a 1993 legislation prohibiting manual scavenging of human excreta, and a Supreme Court verdict in the matter, such inhuman practices continue unabated in the country.
In a significant ruling, the Gujarat High Court has said that the local civic body chief would be held responsible if anyone is made to clean manholes or sewer lines manually.
The High Court verdict comes after years of litigations over frequent deaths of sanitary workers sent down to clean manholes and gutter pipelines manually.
At least 282 people have died in Gujarat while cleaning gutters since 1993 when manual scavenging of human excreta was outlawed by the apex court and was followed up by the high court.
Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the matter, a bench of acting Chief Justice A J Desai and Justice Biren Vaishnav on Monday demanded an immediate end to the practice of manual scavenging.
The ruling said that the municipal commissioner, municipality’s chief officer or village sarpanch would be held liable if anyone is deployed for manual scavenging in their jurisdictions.
The PIL, filed by NGO Manav Garima, sought an end to the practice of manual scavenging that has caused the death of many sanitation workers in Gujarat over last two or three decades.
During the proceedings on the PIL, the Gujarat Government admitted that compensations have been paid only in 137 of 152 such death cases before its consideration.
The High Court also directed the state government to pay compensation to all the legal heirs of the deceased sanitation workers before the next hearing on 19 June.
The state government told the court that local civic bodies have discontinued the banned practice of manual scavenging, but private contractors continue to send down sanitary workers into gutters without any safety gears.