Asphyxiation deaths: Take criminal action against officials, says Madras HC

·2-min read

Chennai, Mar 16 (PTI): The Madras High Court on Tuesday suggested to the civic authorities to take stringent criminal action against the heads of the Corporation or Municipality concerned if a worker, engaged in manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, died of asphyxiation.

Taking serious view of deaths occurring due to manual scavenging across the State, the first bench of Chief Justice Sandib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy gave the suggestion, when the public interest writ petition from Safai Karamchari Andolan came up for further hearing.

The petitioner alleged that as many as 14 persons had died when they entered into the septic tanks for purpose of cleaning, in 2020. Six more had died till filing of the petition this year, he added.

'Despite passing orders and filing detailed status reports till December 2019, the practice still prevails and people are dying in pits,' the judges noted.

Expressing its disappointment at the spate of manual scavenging accidents occurring constantly, the bench said that it is high time that the heads of corporations and municipalities are held personally liable for the deaths occurring within their jurisdictions and it must be made clear to them by the appropriate authorities.

As per the data collected by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, since 2017, one sanitation worker had died every five days in India while cleaning sewers or septic tanks.

The main cause of deaths was the depletion of oxygen and the presence of toxic gases, mostly hydrogen sulphide at the bottom of the septic tank, the petitioner said.

Taking serious note of the alleged lackadaisical approach of the State in the issue, the judges directed it to file a detailed report within six weeks from each of the districts about the steps taken to eliminate the problem.

The court also directed the state to provide adequate compensation to the persons who lost their lives. PTI COR SA BN BN