The division bench of Chief Justice Dr S. Muralidhar and Justice BP Routray awarded compensation on the death of two manual scavengers. The court observed that it was unfortunate that manual scavengers had to sacrifice their lives in a democratic country.
On 15th April 2021, two manual scavengers engaged in cleaning a sewer line died. Another worker was injured and had to be hospitalised. The incident was reported in the Bhubaneswar edition of the New Indian Express on 16th April. Another such incident occurred on 19th April in which two workers died due to asphyxiation. The Odisha High Court took suo Moto cognizance of these incidents.
The court observed that the object of enacting Article 17 of the constitution of India was to ensure that the menace of untouchability was abolished and manual scavenging decreased. But still, the practice continues in Modern India. The court found it unfortunate that in a country where the constitution still promised equality, liberty, fraternity and social justice citizens still had to risk their lives doing manual scavenging without safety gears. The court said that these incidents were in violation of Section 7 and 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR Act). The court referred to the verdict of the Supreme Court of India in Safai Karmachari Andolan v. Union of India ((2014) 11 SCC 224) where the SC had held that the PEMSR Act was in consonance with the rights of the workers under Article 19 and 17 of the Indian Constitution. In this case, the SC highlighted the social and economic oppression of the manual scavengers. In this case, the SC had awarded 10 lakhs compensation to all families whose members died in manual scavenging since 1993. The court also highlighted the observations of the Supreme Court in Delhi Jal Board v. National Campaign for Dignity & Rights of Sewerage & Allied Workers ((2011) 8 SCC 568) to justify the taking of suo moto cognizance in this case.
The Court ordered ten lakh compensation to the families of the sanitation workers and ordered a probe into the incident. The court also issued notice to the state authorities and instructed the state to explain the steps taken under PEMSR Act.
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