Orissa HC takes suo motu cognizance of sanitation workers' deaths

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Cuttack, Apr 19 (PTI) Taking suo motu cognizance of the recent deaths of four sanitation workers while cleaning sewer lines and septic tanks in the state, the Orissa High Court on Monday issued notices to the chief secretary and several government departments seeking reports from them on the matter.

While two sanitation workers died and another became critically ill due to asphyxiation while working in sewer lines in Cuttack last week, two others were suffocated to death after entering into a septic tank in Bhubaneswar last month.

'It shocks the judicial conscience, as it should the societys collective conscience,' a division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice B P Routray observed and directed that criminal procedures be initiated on the matter.

The high court said that the shameful practice of manual cleaning of sewer lines and septic tanks are continuing unabated in the country though the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act was enacted in 2013.

It appears that in both the incidents, there were egregious violations of the mandatory provisions of the PEMSR Act, the high court observed.

Most of the sanitation workers belong to the SC or ST community and hence provisions of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act might be invoked in the case.

Arraigning the chief secretary, secretaries of housing and urban development and SC-ST welfare departments, commissioners of municipal corporations of the two cities and others, the high court issued notices seeking separate reports in affidavits from them.

It also appointed two advocates as amicus curiae, an impartial adviser to a court of law in a particular case, to assist the high court in deciding the matter.

Fixing the next date of hearing on May 10, the bench asked the respondents to ensure that by that date, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each is disbursed to the family of the deceased workers.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik recently announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the next of kin of the sanitation workers who died.

A junior engineer was suspended and two senior engineers were transferred in connection with the incident at Cuttack. PTI COR AAM NN NN