On Monday, the Orissa High Court was hearing a case related to the position of the manual scavengers working in the state of Orissa. The court wanted the Water Corporation of Orissa to respond and co-operate in improving the status of such workers especially after the incidents that took place on the 19th of April 2021 in Bhubaneswar and on the 15th of April, 2021, in Cuttack.
The division bench consisted of Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Savithri Ratho. The case was a sue moto measure instituted by the court itself as it involved violations of the compulsory provisions laid down in the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
The bench directed the WATCO to submit an affidavit before it on the next date in relation to the incidents that had taken place in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
On the 15th of April, 2021, one worker had stepped into a 15 feet deep pipe to clean the dirt. He had fallen unconscious due to asphyxiation. In order to rescue him, two other workers had entered the area and after some time even they had fallen unconscious. More men had to enter to bring them back. Finally, they had to be rescued by the firemen. As they were taken to the hospital, the doctor declared two of them to be dead while the other was undergoing treatment under severe conditions. This incident had taken place in Bhubaneswar.
On 19th April, 2021, in a similar incident in Cuttack, two men had entered a sewage tank and were found dead due to asphyxiation.
Such incidents, especially under the current pandemic situation are not only undesirable and painful but also dangerous.
Advocate Pami Ratho, in her petition, submitted that the authorities and the parties on the other side have not been able to give satisfactory answers to the questions raised by her and the matters pertaining to the statutes that the court talks about. She further submitted that there have been more cases of deaths of manual scavengers in the state that have not been paid heed to.
The court has therefore directed the Cuttack Municipal Corporation as well as the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation to submit individual affidavits for the functioning of the manual scavenging practices in their respective areas.
The bench observed that even in the 21st century, if we allow the shameful practice of manual scavenging to continue, it hurts the consciousness of not only the judiciary but also the collective conscience of the society. The practice of humans stepping into sewage pipes and septic tanks to clean the dirt with their own hands is not only an unhealthy and shameful phenomenon but also an inhuman one. This job is usually forced upon the people who belong to the underprivileged section of the society.
In a democratic country, where the preamble and the constitution guaranteed the right to equality of status, opportunity and the right to maintenance of basic human dignity to every individual, manual scavenging is a black spot that brings utter shame to the nation. It is the responsibility of the state to stop the practice with immediate effect and to make efforts to rehabilitate the workers who have been engaged in the same for years.