Nowhere in the world people sent to gas chambers to die, says Supreme Court on manual scavenging

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.

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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.

Nowhere in the world people are sent to “gas chambers to die”, fumed the Supreme Court on Wednesday while expressing serious concern over deaths during manual scavenging and manhole cleaning across the country.

Slamming the government authorities for not providing protective gear like masks and oxygen cylinders to people engaged in manual scavenging and manhole cleaning, the apex court said this is the “most inhuman” way to treat a human being.

The top court also said that although over 70 years have passed since India got Independence, caste discrimination still persists in the country and the society is not treating all human beings equally despite the Constitutional mandate.

“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,” a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra asked Attorney General K K Venugopal.

Venugopal, while conceding that people involved in such works are dying in the country day-after-day, said deaths have also happened due to potholes on the roads but no action has been taken against the authorities concerned.

He told the bench, also comprising justices M R Shah and B R Gavai, that law of tort, which deals with civil wrong and its liabilities thereof, is not developed and practiced in the country and though the magistrates have jurisdiction, not a single case has been registered suo motu (on its own) on such incidents.

“A case cannot be filed against people who are sweeping the streets or cleaning sewers. Cases should be filed against the supervisory officers and authorities who are responsible for such works as they have collected taxes from the citizens for this,” the Attorney General said.

The bench remarked, “This is the most inhuman way to treat a human being”.

“It is the most uncivilized and inhuman situation where the people are losing their lives in gas chambers without any masks or oxygen cylinders,” the bench said, adding, “You have to take care of people. People are dying everyday due to this”.

“All the human beings are equal and when they are equal you should provide them equal opportunities as mandated under the Constitution. You are not even providing them an equal chance and they are not been given the basic facilities to even clean themselves,” the bench said.

Justice Mishra also questioned whether the practice of untouchability, which was abolished by the Constitution, has stopped.

“Despite the Constitution abolishing untouchability in the country, I am asking all of you, will any of you shake hands with them? The answer is no. That is the way we are going on. The condition must improve. We have moved 70 years since Independence but these things are still happening,” Justice Mishra said.

Agreeing with the observation, Venugopal said the caste system is embedded in the country despite the Constitution saying that there should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion, caste and creed.

The apex court made these scathing 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.

The bench reserved its verdict on the review plea filed by the Centre against the March 20 last year verdict delivered by a two-judge bench of the apex court.

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First published on: 18-09-2019 at 15:05 IST