Court notice to Delhi government on anti-scavenging law

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Friday asked the Delhi government to explain its failure to implement a central law against manual scavenging that provides for elimination of dry latrines and rehabilitation of scavengers.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan issued notice after the petitioner Safai Karmachari Andolan (Sanitary Workers’ Movement) was able to demonstrate that there were at least 15 dry latrines existing in Delhi’s northeast district with at least five people still engaged in manual scavenging.

The petitioner, in fact, through a government’s reply under transparency law on the number of dry latrines in Delhi, demonstrated that the state government itself has acknowledged existence of 1,085 manual scavengers in Delhi.

The petitioner earlier had told the court, on the basis of its own survey, that there were 14,479 manual scavengers to be rehabilitated in Delhi after their job loss following elimination of dry latrines.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed by the Union Government in 1993 with an aim to finish the demeaning profession of carrying night soil on head and rehabilitate the scavengers.

The law also provided for appointment of an executive authority for prosecution of the owners of the dry latrines.

As per the petitioner, though most of the states have already adopted the law and are striving to achieve its aim and objective, Delhi, apparently under the impression that it has no dry latrines or manual scavengers in its territory, have shown no hurry in adopting the law.

In fact, an affidavit filed by the Delhi government in March 2008 ‘categorically denied existence of any such latrine from where scavengers lift night soil manually and carry on their heads to the sites of disposal.’

The government, however, had admitted in its affidavit that there are latrines from where night soil flows into open drains and scavengers push the night soil with the help of brooms and also sludge in wheel-barrows up to the disposal point.’

Upset by the revelation that the Delhi government considered demeaning only the task of carrying night soil by scavengers on their heads and apparently treated pushing it with broom in the open drain as acceptable, the court issued notice to the Delhi government for its failure to implement the anti-scavenging law till now.

Earlier on April 30, the court had also sent to district magistrates the details of over 2,000 dry latrine owners in over 25 districts all over Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan seeking their explanation for their failure in demolishing the latrines and prosecuting the owners.

The Safai Karmachari Andolan has been waging a relentless legal battle since 2003 seeking implementation of the 1993 law against scavenging and elimination of the profession, undermining human dignity.


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