ANI Photo | HC notice to Centre, Delhi Govt on plea challenging Manual Scavengers Act’s several sections

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre and the Delhi government on a petition challenging several sections of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013. The plea also sought a direction to rehabilitate the sewer cleaners and provide them with all the benefits received by manual scavengers under the act.
The bench of Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora on Tuesday sought responses from the Union of India through its Secretary, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the State of NCT of Delhi through its Chief Secretary and directed them to file their reply within eight weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on July 4.
The petitioner Kallu, works as a sewer cleaner on daily wages and belongs to the Scheduled Caste community and has also been engaged in collecting and transporting human excreta using sewerage networks and tanks for decades. The petition stated that the petitioner is the brother of the late Joginder (sewer cleaner) who died on 06.08.2017 while performing “Hazardous Cleaning” (sewer cleaning) in Lajpat Nagar.
Advocate Pawan Reley appeared for the petitioner and submitted that the MS Act, 2013 along with the MS Rules, 2013 was constituted to eradicate the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging and the highly iniquitous caste system to correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers, and to rehabilitate them to a life of dignity.
However, the provisions of the MS Act, 2013 and MS Rules, 2013 are not in the same line with the objective of the Act, 2013. However, Section 2(1)(g), Section 39 of the MS Act, 2013 along with Rule 3, Rule 4, Rule 5, and Rule 6 (2) of MS Rules, 2013 is violative of Articles 14, 17 and 21 of Indian Constitution because it is manifestly arbitrary, creates an artificial classification, legitimizes untouchability, and violates the “Principles of Dignity”.
It is violative of Article 14 because it is not only manifestly arbitrary but also against the principles of reasonable classification, as it excludes from its purview the “Sewer cleaner and Septic tank cleaner doing hazardous cleaning” as they also clean, carry, dispose of and handle human excreta from more dangerous places and deprive them of the benefit of identification and rehabilitation provided under Section 11 to Section 16 of the MS Act, 2013 and MS Rules, 2013 and other beneficial schemes brought by Government time to time stated the plea.
A decade has passed since the MS Act, 2013 came into effect but the situation of sewer and septic tank cleaners is only on the road to misery because of the ignorance towards them and not acknowledging their nature of work whether through the lens of safety or highly iniquitous social stigma that they are subject to, submitted advocate Pawan Reley.
According to the plea, explanation (a) of Section 2(1)(g) of the MS Act, 2013 is also discriminatory because it only postulates for regular or contractual employees and does not include the person cleaning human excreta on daily wages, or engaged as temporary workers, and Jajmani. This explanation has created a further unreasonable classification between the manual scavengers because it excludes the daily wage, temporary workers, and Jajmani workers to come under the ambit of Section 2(1)(g) thereby making them redundant to avail the benefits for which they are eligible because the nature of work which is to clean, carry, dispose or handle in any manner the human excreta remains the same whether employed on daily wage basis or contractual or permanent basis.
Plea stated that the essence of the whole objective of the MS Act, 2013 has been tarnished by enacting Section 39 which gives the Power to Central Government to exempt and allows manual scavenging for six months. The section exhibiting the power of exemption to the government to exclude any area or a particular class of person from the MS Act, 2013 is not only arbitrary but also against the concept of human dignity

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