The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed serious concern over people dying during manual scavenging and sewage cleaning in India, saying nowhere in the world people are sent to "gas chambers to die". While making scathing observations, the apex court said though more than 70 years have passed since Independence, caste discrimination still persists in the country. 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 who are engaged in manual scavenging and cleaning of sewage or manholes.
"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," the bench also comprising justices M R Shah and B R Gavai said.
Over 20,500 people have been identified as involved in manual scavenging in India, with Uttar Pradesh accounting for nearly 6,000 of them, according to a new survey being conducted by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment across 18 states. An earlier survey conducted over a period of three years (2014-17), based on figures provided by states, had estimated there were 13,770 manual scavengers in the country, officials said.
Some states like Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra had even denied the existence of persons engaged in manual scavenging in their territories, however, the latest ongoing survey has revealed that manual scavenging was prevalent even in these states. The recent survey, which started in February and is ongoing, will cover 170 districts across the 18 states, the officials said. Manual scavenging (cleaning sewers and clearing human excreta from open-pit toilets) is prohibited under the 'Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013'.