NHRC seeks report on untraceable, deceased manual scavengers in Gujarat

The NHRC, acting on a petition by human rights activist, Radhakanta Tripathy, has given the authority three months to respond with a detailed reply.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Delhi.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Delhi. Photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has requested a detailed report on the un-compensated and untraceable deceased manual scavengers (Safai Karamcharis) in Gujarat from the Joint Secretary of the State's Social Justice Department.

Acting on a petition filed by human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer Radhakanta Tripathy, the NHRC has given the authority three months to respond with a detailed reply.

The NHRC has also sought details on the compensation paid to each family member of the deceased and the status of pending court cases where compensation has yet to be paid.

In his petition filed on March 26, 2018, Tripathy alleged that the Gujarat government had not paid compensation in 165 cases of manual scavenger deaths, despite a Supreme Court order mandating Rs 10 lakh compensation to the next of kin of each manual scavenger who died while cleaning gutters since 1993.

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Tripathy's petition sought compensation for the deceased's next of kin, compensation for injured persons, and action against the wrongdoers.

Following the NHRC's directions, responses were received from the authorities concerned. The Commission has considered these responses over a series of proceedings regarding compensation payments.

The Joint Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment Department, Government of Gujarat, reported in 2021 that Rs 10 lakh compensation was paid to the legal heirs of 84 out of 161 deceased manual scavengers. Partial compensation was paid to the heirs of 11 deceased manual scavengers who agreed not to ask for the remaining amount.

Despite efforts and advertisements in newspapers, no legal heirs were found for 34 deceased manual scavengers. One person refused the relief amount through an affidavit. Three individuals were not classified as manual scavengers under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

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Eleven individuals were deemed ineligible for compensation for various reasons. Twenty-three names were excluded from the compensation list. Nine cases remain where compensation is yet to be paid, pending government approval to use funds from the Safai Kamdar Nigam.

Subsequently, the NHRC issued an advisory on protecting the human rights of manual scavengers and ensuring proper safety equipment for sanitary workers.

On December 26, 2023, the NHRC directed the Chief Secretary and Joint Secretary, Social Justice & Empowerment Department, Government of Gujarat, to provide a further consolidated report on the compensation paid to the next of kin of all 144 deceased who died during the cleaning of sewer lines/septic tanks, including the quantum of compensation.

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The NHRC noted that the whereabouts of the legal heirs of 34 deceased persons remain unascertained despite efforts by the concerned Nagar Palika and Mahanagar Palikas. However, details of these efforts were not indicated in the reply.

"It is a matter of concern that the next of kin of 34 deceased persons have not been ascertained by the concerned Nagar Palikas and Mahanagar Palikas," Tripathy said.

After adjudicating the case for more than six years, the NHRC observed, “There may be muster rolls as well as other public documents such as Aadhar cards, voter ID cards, etc., based on which it may be possible to find out the details of the family members and to ascertain the next of kin of the deceased.”

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