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SC glare on scavengers

New Delhi, March 27: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre, states and the Union territories to take all measures to eradicate manual scavenging, saying the practice was as bad as “untouchability”.

The apex court rued that the practice was continuing despite being banned by two acts: the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

“The inhuman practice of manually removing night soil, which involves removal of human excrements from dry toilets with bare hands, brooms or metal scrappers, (and) carrying excrements and baskets to dumping sites for disposal is a practice that is still prevalent in many parts of the country,” the bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana said.

“We hereby direct all the state governments and Union territories to fully implement the (two acts) and take appropriate action for non-implementation as well as violation of the provisions contained in the 2013 act.”

The court added: “However, we once again reiterate that the duty is cast on all the states and the Union territories to fully implement and to take action against the violators. Henceforth, persons aggrieved are permitted to approach the authorities concerned at the first instance and thereafter the high court having jurisdiction.”

The bench passed the order on a public interest litigation filed by the NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan that highlighted the plight of manual scavengers in the country.

The apex court observed that while surveys conducted by some NGOs had counted over 12 lakh manual scavengers in the country, official statistics issued by the ministry of social justice and empowerment put the figure at 6.76 lakh for the year 2002-2003.

“Of these, over 95 per cent are Dalits, who are compelled to undertake this denigrating task under the garb of ‘traditional occupation’,” the court said. “The manual scavengers are considered untouchables by other mainstream castes and are thrown into a vortex of severe social and economic exploitation.”