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Delhi Jal Board Versus National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & others

Date : 12/07/2011

Delhi Jal Board versus National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & others (Civil Appeal NO. 5322 of 2011, arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 12345 of 2009)

Hon ble Supreme Court of India, on 12.07.2011, has passed a landmark judgment identifying and highlighting the apathy and plight of the disadvantaged sections of the society, particularly the scavengers and sewage workers, who risk their lives by going down the drainage without any safety equipment and security and have been deprived of fundamental rights to equality, life and liberty for last more than six decades. The Court also criticised the government and the State apparatus on being insensitive to the safety and wellbeing of those who are, on account of sheer poverty, compelled to work under most unfavourable conditions and regularly face the threat of being deprived of their life. The Supreme Court not only directed to pay higher compensation to the families of the deceased, but also directed the civic bodies to ensure immediate compliance of the directions and orders passed by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court for ensuring safety and security of the sewage workers.

In the year 2007, advocates at Human Rights Law Network filed a Public Interest Litigation in Delhi High Court for “National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers” representing the millions of scavengers in Delhi who are employed by the municipal agencies like Delhi Jal Board (the agency which is responsible for water supply and for liquid waste management), Municipal Corporation of Delhi, New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation, Central Public Works Department and other civic bodies challenging their respective roles in risking the lives of scavengers and also not ensuring adequate safety and financial security to them.

When the case was filed, there were reports coming in regarding the deaths of the scavengers because of poisonous gases and fumes in the drainage while cleaning the same. These scavengers and sewage workers were forced to go into the drains without any safety equipment and gas cylinders. After their death, the civic agencies also refused to pay any compensation and financial benefits to them. In the PIL, these instances were highlighted and the Hon ble Delhi High Court found the situation very grim and pathetic. The Court, therefore directed the civic bodied by its order dated 05.04.2008 to forthwith ensure, inter alia, providing free medical care facilities to the sewage workers, payment of compensation to the sewage workers, who are suffering from occupational diseases, payment of compensation and statutory dues like provident funds, gratuity etc. to the dependents of such sewage workers, providing protective gears and equipment to the workers going down the drain, etc. The Court also directed to pay the compensation of Rs. 1 Lakh (Rupees one hundred thousand) to every sewage workers who lost their lives while performing their duties.

When the hearing progressed, the Court found that there was very low level of implementation of orders and directions of the order dated 05.04.2008 by these civic bodies. Hence, after considering the affidavits filed by different agencies and the reports submitted by the Committee constituted by the Court to see the implementation of its orders, the Court finally took a tough stand and passed the order on 21.04.2008 directing the civic bodies to ensure immediate payment of compensation to the families of the victims through Delhi Legal Aid Services Authority. The Court also enhanced the compensation to some victims to tune of Rs. 1.71 lakhs (Rupees 171 thousand). The Court also issued show cause notices to these civic bodies for initiating contempt of court proceedings.

Challenging the order dated 21.04.2008 passed by the High Court Delhi Jal Board filed the appeal in Supreme Court of India. In the appeal filed in Supreme Court, the civic body contended that the High Court overreached its powers while awarding compensation and directing them to ensure safety and security of the sewage workers.

Supreme Court dismissed their plea and directed, by its order dated 12.07.2011, the civic bodies to ensure the immediate implementation of the orders passed by the Delhi High Court on 05.04.2008, preferably within two months and file a compliance report in the Delhi High Court. The Court also enhanced the compensation to paid to each of the victims to Rs. 5 Lakh (Rupees Five hundred thousand). The Court remanded the matter back to the Delhi High Court for further hearing and passing appropriate orders.


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