Thursday, March 30, 2017

Three years on, Gujarat govt "fails" to implement Supreme Court order to compensate 146 manhole deaths

A manhole worker in Ahmedabad, March 22
By Our Representative
In what is being interpreted as a clear violation of the Supreme Court order, the Gujarat government has not begun implementation of the three-year-old apex court order, dated March 27, 2014, requiring payment of Rs 10 lakh compensation to each of the manual scavengers who died cleaning up gutters across the state since 1993.
The order also required all state governments to provide insurance cover worth Rs 10 lakh to all manhole workers, which too remains unimplemented.
Manav Garima Trust, one of Gujarat’s premier civil rights organization fighting for justice to manhole workers, has estimated that between 1993 and till date as many as 146 persons have due to asphyxiation in gutters. Only one person, from Savarkundla, has been paid the compensation so far – that too on March 2, 2017, following the death of a manhole worker a day earlier.
Trust’s director Parsottam Vaghela told Counterview, “On March 16, 2017, we handed over the list of those who should be paid the compensation, as despite the lapse of four years of the apex court judgment, there is no movement in compensating the deaths.”
Vaghela said, “To our utter surprise, we found that the Gujarat government has not even prepared the list of those who have died. We hope, now that we have handed over the list, along with all the details, the state government will act.”
Pointing out that this is not for the first time he has handed over the list, Vaghela revealed, “We have also prepared a separate list of 32 manhole workers, who died on work following the Supreme Court order. I handed over both the lists to Punamchand Parmar, principal secretary, urban development department.”
A scan through official documents suggests how indifferent the state government has been towards the plight of manhole workers. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and the model rules made to implement it, ban manhole workers’ entry into gutters and septic tanks without proper security equipment.
As the state governments, including that of Gujarat, did not act, and manhole workers continued to die due to asphyxiation, civil society organizations approached the apex court, which ruled a year later to compensate for the death of manhole workers since 1993 across India.
The apex court also ruled to provide an insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh free of cost to each of the manhole workers, whether working with urban or rural local bodies or with private contractors.
While Gujarat’s panchayat and rural development department came up with a GR on June 21, 2014, the state urban development department followed suit two-and-a-half years later, on December 16, 2016, only after the Manav Garima Trust filed public interest litigation in the matter in the Gujarat High Court to begin implementing of the Supreme Court order.
To suggest that the state government is “acting”, the social justice and empowerment department came up with a separate GR four days later, on December 20, 2016, declaring that it is the responsibility of the panchayat department for rural areas and urban development department for urban areas for ensuring implementation of the apex court order, as also the 2013 Act banning manual scavenging.
“All these GRs have remained on paper, only to show that the state government intends to comply by the legal requirement”, Vaghela says, adding, “The state government has not just not paid the Rs 10 lakh compensation; it has not even provided insurance cover of Rs 10 to each of the manhole workers.”

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