A capital shame: SC gets details of manual scavenging in Delhi
10 May 2009, 0428 hrs IST, Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN
NEW DELHI: More than 100 years after Mahatma Gandhi termed it as the worst curse on society and more than 16 years after a central law banned it, manual scavengers still carry night soil from dry latrines not far from Parliament.
This story of the capital's shame unfolded on Friday in the Supreme Court, which received a survey from the petitioner organisation "Safai Karmachari Andolan" detailing individual manual scavengers and the location of houses where they clean dry latrines in north-east Delhi.
The five manual scavengers -- Shakuntala, Radha, Bala, Santa and Lata -- were photographed working in the 15 dry latrines owned by Anwar, Mohammad Iqbal, Sultana Begum, Badrunisha, Mullaji (Madarsawale), Julfikar, Mohammad Rais, Mohammad Anis, Ishrat, Rahis Ahmad, Munni and Mussavar Miya in Sundar Nagari and Kelash Nagar localities.
What is worse, the Delhi government has not yet adopted the Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, that made dry latrine owners liable for prosecution.
The petitioner also gave to the SC information on manual scavengers obtained from the Delhi SC/ST/OBC/Minorities and Handicapped Financial and Development Corporation using provisions of the RTI Act. The Corporation said that a survey conducted by the Department of Social Work, Delhi University, had identified 1,085 scavengers still working in Delhi.
The detailed presentation of the shameful story by senior advocate P S Narsimha and advocate Shomona Khanna remained inconclusive before a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices Arijit Pasayat and P Sathasivam.
The Bench, finding the existence of manual scavenging hard to believe especially in the face of all states being in the denial mode, had on August 5, 2008, directed the petitioner NGO to "furnish the details by way of an affidavit as to whether manual scavenging is still continuing, and if so, in which parts of the country".
Taking up the painstaking work of surveying the areas where manual scavenging still existed on ground but was denied by the authorities, the NGO submitted to the SC a detailed report regarding the states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab.
The Bench, headed by the Chief Justice, on April 30 noted in its order that manual scavenging is "prevalent in the districts of Jhunjhunu, Ajmer, Nagaur, Bikaner, Bharatpur, Churu, Karoli, Sikar and Alwar".
It directed the Registry to "send a copy of these details, that is, the names and addresses of the dry latrine owners and employers along with a copy of the report to each of the district collectors mentioned above. Each district collector has to explain as to why steps were not being taken against persons who employed manual scavengers under the 1993 Act."
Similar notices also went to the district collectors of Ambala, Fatehabad, Jind, Kaithal, Kurukshetra, Panipat and Yamunanagar in Haryana and Nawanshahar, Firozpur, Sangrur, Mohali, Amritsar, Faridkot, Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib of Punjab.
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