J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU
The Supreme Court has underlined the need for giving proper equipment, adequate protection and safety gears to sewer workers who enter manholes for clearing blocks. Expressing anguish over the manner in which they were treated by the employers, a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly said: “Given the option, no one would like to enter the manhole of a sewerage system for cleaning purposes, but there are people who are forced to undertake such hazardous jobs with the hope that at the end of the day they will be able to make some money and feed their family.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Singhvi said: “The State and its agencies/instrumentalities cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility to put in place an effective mechanism for ensuring the safety of the workers employed for maintaining and cleaning the sewerage system. The human beings who are employed for doing the work in sewers cannot be treated as mechanical robots, who may not be affected by poisonous gases in manholes.”
The Bench said: “They risk their lives for the comfort of others. Unfortunately, for the last few decades, a substantial segment of the urban society has become insensitive to the plight of the poor and downtrodden including those, who on account of their sheer economic compulsions, undertake jobs/works which are inherently dangerous to life.“People belonging to this segment do not want to understand why a person is made to enter manholes without safety gears and proper equipment. They look the other way when the body of a worker who dies in the manhole is taken out with the help of ropes and cranes.“It will be a tragic and sad day when the superior courts shut their doors for those, who without any motive for personal gain or other extraneous reasons, come forward to seek protection and enforcement of the legal and constitutional rights of the poor, downtrodden and disadvantaged sections of society.”
The judges said: “If the system can devote hours, days and months to hear the elitist class of eminent advocates who are engaged by those who are accused of evading payment of taxes and duties or committing heinous crimes like murder, rape, dowry death, kidnapping, abduction and even acts of terrorism or who come forward with the grievance that their fundamental right to equality has been violated by the State and/or its agencies/instrumentalities in contractual matters, some time can always be devoted for hearing the grievance of vast majority of silent sufferers whose cause is espoused by NGOs.”
In the instant case, on a Public Interest Litigation plea from the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers and others, the Delhi High Court gave a series of directions to the Delhi Jal Board for the safety and protection of sewer workers and also ordered payment of compensation to the families of those who died after inhaling poisonous gas in manholes. The appeal is directed against this order. Dismissing the appeal, the Bench deprecated the attitude of the public authority for frustrating the effort made by the respondent (petitioner in the High Court) for getting compensation to the workers who died due to the negligence of the contractor, to whom the work of maintaining the sewers was outsourced. The Bench directed implementation of the High Court directions within two months and sought a compliance report.
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