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‘Sending people to gas chambers’: Supreme Court raps government for manual scavenging


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Expressing serious concern over people dying during manual scavenging and sewage cleaning in India, the Supreme Court Wednesday said nowhere in the world people are sent to “gas chambers to die”.

Although over 70 years have passed since the Independence, caste discrimination still persists in the country, the apex court said while making scathing observations on the practice.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra questioned Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, as to why proper protective gear like mask and oxygen cylinders were not being provided to people engaged in manual scavenging and cleaning of sewage or manholes.

“Why are you not providing them masks and oxygen cylinders? In no country in the world, people are sent to gas chambers to die. Four to five people are dying due to this every month,” said the bench also comprising justices M R Shah and B R Gavai.

The Constitution has provided that all human beings are equal but they are not being given equal facilities by the authorities, it said.

The bench termed as “inhuman” the situation where the people are not provided with any protective gear and they are dying during the process of cleaning of sewage and manholes across the country.

The apex court made these hard-hitting observations while it was hearing the Centre’s plea seeking review of its last year’s verdict which had virtually diluted the provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act.



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The observation by Supreme Court is strong condemnation on allowing this inhuman act by the Municipal bodies. Bangalore Municipal Corporation has purchased Vehicles that clean the under ground swearage with mechanical aid fitted in them. Municipalities which do not have such vehicles should be provided funds to get them at the earliest or the State Governments should purchase under "Swatch Bharat" scheme and rent out to small municipalities which cannot afford to spend big money.
Time has come to treat sanitary labour in more dignified manner.


Well-known member
The Supreme Court has equated the practice of manual scavenging with “sending people to gas chambers.” Expressing concerns over the working conditions of manual scavengers, a three-judge bench questioned the Centre on the lack of protective gear like oxygen cylinders and masks.

The court is on the right track, but the problem is deeper. India remains the only country to employ manual scavengers, largely from the Schedule Castes (SCs) and Schedule Tribes (STs). This is no coincidence, for the entire caste system rests on the notion of “purity” and “pollution”, with tasks considered impure assigned to those at the bottom of the hierarchy. This is despite a ban enforced in 1993. The law has only been observed in breach. Fifty workers have died cleaning sewers in the first half of 2019 alone, according to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK). This comes after a survey conducted in 2018 by the Centre which identified around 40,000 manual scavengers in 14 states. The number is likely much higher.


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