New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the Centre for being unable to provide protective gear to manual scavengers, a lapse that has led to several deaths in recent times.
The top court, likening work conditions of scavengers to gas chambers, said: “In no country are people sent to gas chambers to die. But here, 4 to 5 people lose their lives to manual scavenging every month.”
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra questioned Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, as to why proper protective gear like masks and oxygen cylinders were not provided to people who are engaged in manual scavenging and cleaning of sewage and manholes.
In India, manual scavenging was traditionally a role decided by the caste system for members of the Dalit caste, especially Balmiki (or Valminki) or Hela subcaste.
Expressing concern over the presence of an outlaw system in society, the apex court said: ''70 years have passed since Independence; caste discrimination still persists in the country.''
“All human beings are equal but are not being provided equal facilities by authorities,’’ the bench, also comprising justices M R Shah and B R Gavai, said.
Since 1993, hiring people as manual scavengers is banned in India. Moreover, in 2013, a landmark legislation -- Manual Scavengers And Their Rehabilitation Act -- was passed to reinforce the ban and ensure rehabilitation through a mandatory survey.
Despite all measures, manual scavenging is still prevalent across the country.
Scavenging is the practice of manually removing human excreta from service or dry latrines.
The scavengers go inside the dry latrines and collect the untreated human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container and dispose it off.