The High Court has issued directions to the state government in an interim order.

A representation photo of a manual scavengerVijay Pandey/Pixcy
news Court Thursday, December 10, 2020 - 14:46

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday took the state government to task for not implementing provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013. The High Court also noted that there were “hardly any prosecutions” for offences punishable under the legislation and therefore issued directions to the state government to implement the provisions of the Act immediately, Live Law reported. The court also gave the state government a deadline of January 31 to file compliance reports regarding the directions it issued. 

“There are hardly any prosecutions for the offence punishable under the Manual Scavengers Act. At least no such data is on record. In fact, under Section 22, it is provided that notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, every offence under the said Act is cognizable and non-bailable. Unless penal provisions are properly invoked, there cannot be effective implementation of the Manual Scavengers Act,” the High Court noted. 

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty, were hearing a writ petition filed by All India Council of Trade Unions (AICTU) and High Court Legal Services Committee, which had stated that the provisions of the Manual Scavenging Act were not being  implemented. 

The High Court also noted in its interim order that if any citizen is forced to perform manual scavenging, it amounts to a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution. 

"There can be no dispute that our Constitutional philosophy does not permit any form of manual scavenging. Right of a citizen to live with dignity is an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. There can be no dispute that manual scavenging is most inhuman and it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21,” Chief Justice Abhay Oka noted. 

The court also specifically noted that there was hardly any implementation of “any provisions” of the Manual Scavenging Act and thereby called for exercising the court’s power to issue directions to the government. "We have found that there is hardly any implementation of the provisions of the Manual Scavengers Act and the Rules in the State of Karnataka. Therefore, this is a case where continuous monitoring will be necessary and the power of issuing continuing mandamus will have to be exercised,” the court observed. 

The court’s directions to the state government:

  • Requires the state government to place on record the FIRs registered for offences punishable under the Manual Scavengers Act, the details of the cases in which chargesheets were filed, the details of the cases which are pending in court and the details of the cases which resulted in conviction and acquittal. 
  • The Manual Scavenging Act of 2013 had called for conducting surveys in each district of persons employed as manual scavengers and compiling such data at state level too by the district and state-level committees. This was to be done within 9 months of the law coming into force, which was in 2013. Hence, the High Court has asked the government to produce necessary material to show that the District Level Survey Committees and State Level Survey Committees have been constituted and also whether these committees carried out surveys as mandated by the law. 
  • The Act also mentions that insanitary latrines must be either converted to sanitary ones or demolished. Since this data was not produced before the court, the bench directed the government to place on record comprehensive data about the survey of insanitary latrines throughout the state and the details about the conversion and demolition of insanitary latrines. 
  • To initiate awareness campaigns immediately in order to eliminate open defecation and ensure that all local authorities comply. The state government was directed to enlist the help of NGOs and the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority to conduct the campaigns in rural areas. 
  • The state government has to place on record the steps taken for rehabilitation of manual scavengers. 
  • The Karnataka High Court Legal Services Committee and all the District Legal Services Authorities will be entitled to convene meetings of all the stakeholders for ensuring that directions issued by this court are complied with. 
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