On 25th January, just one day before Republic Day, the management of Sri Svethambar Sthanakwasi Bawees Sampraday Jain Sangha Trust located on the Infantry Road in Shivajinagar Bengaluru, employed Muniyanna (~50 years) and Sidappa (17 years) to clean an approximately 20 feet deep chamber into which sewage was being discharged. Sidappa went in first and fell unconscious. Muniyanna went to save him and he also feel unconcious. Workers working on premises rused to save both of them. Sidappa was broght dead to the hospital while Muniyanna was admitted to the ICU of Bowring hospital. On 29th Janunary 2020, Muniyanna also passed away.
The doctors said that his lungs were filled with sewage. There was foul smelling sewage in the chamber and it was strewn all around the chamber. Despite this, the police officials at the Commercial Street Police Station refused to accept a complaint and file a FIR. Only after a protest outside the mortuary and pressure from lawyers was a FIR filed late evening on 25th January 2020.
A protest was organized jointly by AICCTU, Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi-Karnataka, People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), All India People’s Forum (AIPF) and Karnataka Slum Janadolana on 27th January 2020 at Town Hall in Bengaluru urging government to take urgent steps to stop killig of Dalit workers. Labour Commissioner came and received the memorandum.
On 2nd April 2019, the owners of Amar International Hotel at Chadachan Road in Indi Town of Vijayapura district, asked Gudusaab Bagwaan (40), Nabilal Ekkewale (32) and Lalappa Madar (35) to clean the septic tank behind the hotel. The workers went inside the septic tank around 4 pm in the evening and never came back. The hotel owners checked the tank only at 7 pm and saw someone lying unconscious in the tank. When they called out, there was no response from any of the workers. The owners called the police along with Fire brigade. The body of Lallappa Madar, belonging to Dalit community, was brought out first but to get the bodies of the remaining two workers, JCB had to be brought to break open the tank.
On 27th April 2019, in a similar incident on Nagwara Main Road in Bengaluru City, two workers – Gafoor Pasha (45) and Aftab Pasha (38) – died while cleaning a well which was being used to dump sewage. On March 2, 2019, in a similar incident in Bengaluru city, a worker had died while cleaning a chamber of a private school on Bengaluru Main Road. The number of manual scavenging deaths in Karnataka has now crossed 80 and it does not look like that the trend of these deaths are going to end anytime soon because of complete absence of political will from the state government. Because of the pressure built by Dalit and Human Rights organizations, while compensation is being provided to the families of the deceased workers and FIRs are being registered promptly, the government has completely failed in taking steps towards preventing such deaths. There are two aspects to prevention of manual scavenging: 1) making technology available and 2) ensuring criminal action against those who employ human beings, in most cases dalits, as manual scavengers.
As part of a PIL filed by PUCL in 2009 (WP 30221/2009), the Karnataka High Court had ordered government to buy Sucking and Jetting Machines for all Urban Local Bodies. After these orders, each Urban Local Body was provided with minimum one Sucking and Jetting Machine. BWSSB has 125 S&J machines. But in many towns, these machines are lying idle. Some have broken down, some urban local bodies have not hired drivers and operators, while others have not publicized how people can request services of these machines. With machines becoming available, slowly and slowly, government bodies are being forced under public pressure to stop using manual scavengers in maintenance of sewers and manholes, but most cities do not have UGD coverage and houses and establishments rely on septic tanks and chambers. While few years back, most of the manual scavenging deaths were happening when government was employing manual scavengers for cleaning the sewers and manholes, off late a majority of deaths are happening when private persons like house owners or hotel or hospital or school owners hire workers for cleaning septic tanks or chambers. Thus ensuring that enough numbers of machines are available, and can be easily requested by private persons by calling a helpline number is a necessary step towards prevention of manual scavenging.
Indi Town also got one Sucking and Jetting Machine after this order which can be hired for 1500 rupees, but the hotel owners preferred using workers as manual scavengers for cleaning the septic tank. So, while availability of machines is necessary, it is not sufficient. Since, most people doing this work come from Dalit community, there is no value for their lives. Hence, if someone hires a person as manual scavengers, ensuring strict punishment, will act as deterrent. Unfortunately, in over 40 cases of manual scavenging deaths that have occurred since the 2013 Manual Scavenging Act came into being, there has not been a single conviction! The government needs to treat these cases as special category cases and try them in fast track courts after appointing special public prosecutors. Unless this is ensured, every year we would be counting dead bodies.
d) “hazardous cleaning” by an employee, in relation to a sewer or septic tank, means its manual cleaning by such employee without the employer fulfilling his obligations to provide protective gear and other cleaning devices and ensuring observance of safety precautions, as may be prescribed or provided in any other law, for the time being in force or rules made thereunder;
Section 7 of the Act expressly prohibits manual cleaning of septic tanks and Sec 9 makes violations of this prohibition punishable offence:-
7. No person, local authority or any agency shall, from such date as the State Government may notify, which shall not be later than one year from the date of commencement of this Act, engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank;
9. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 7 shall for the first contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both, and for any subsequent contravention with imprisonment which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees, or with both.
Sec 2(d) imposes obligations on the employer to provide protective and safety equipment to workers and to take precautions before, during and after any person is engaged in cleaning septic tanks. These obligations have been defined in Chapter II of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013 encompassing Rules 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. But the private school which is affiliated with ICSE/IGCSE and claims to be an ‘International’ school providing facilities including a ‘swimming pool’, completely failed in discharging these obligations. In fact the BBMP Bomanahalli Zonal Office is just 1.5 kms away from the school, and the administration could have requested the services of a Jetting Machine, but the administration of the private school didn’t think twice before sending a person down a sewage pit.
Manu came from the Lingayat community and is survived by his wife Nandini (22) who belongs to Adi-dravida (SC) community. Nadini says that their inter-caste marriage was never accepted by Manu’s mother and that is why they were living in a separate rented house in Hongasandra, just behind the school. Manu used to work as a casual labourer. They have a 4.5 year-old daughter.
Based on a complaint filed by Ms. Nandini at the Beguru Police Station, a case has been registered under Sec 9 of PEMSR Act 2013 and Sec 304A of Indian Penal Code. Three people of the administration of Jai Hind International School, namely Mr. Raghavan (owner), Ms. Saroja (Principal) and Mr. Kishore (Co-ordinator) have been arrested based on the complaint. While Ms. Saroja was granted bail on 04.03.2019, the other two accused were sent into judicial custody.
Clearly this is a case where death has occurred not due to negligence but due to a conscious act on the part of the accused persons who with deliberate knowledge that it is illegal and dangerous to allow a person to clean the pit, has willfully made the deceased person get into the pit without any safety equipment endangering his life and finally causing the death of the deceased and hence the correct provision of law to be invoked is Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 of IPC, 1860, as warranted by the facts of the case.
IPC Sec 304 Part II Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.
IPC Sec 338 Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
As specified above, sec 2(d) of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 read with Chapter II of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013 create obligations on the employers to provide protective and safety equipment to workers and to take precautions before, during and after any person is engaged in cleaning septic tanks. But despite this common knowledge, the accused made a worker enter a septic tank completely unsupervised and without providing any safety or protective equipment whatsoever. Given these facts, Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 of IPC, 1860 are clearly attracted.
Sec 304 Part II and Sec 338 should be immediately added to the FIR filed in the case at the Beguru Police Station.
The Beguru Police Station should expedite the process of investigation and filing of charge sheet in the case.
While providing compensation to the family of the deceased as per Supreme Court Judgement in Safai Karamchari Andolan & Ors. Vs UOI [WP (C) 583/2003], the circumstances of inter-caste marriage between Mr. Manu and Ms. Nandini and non-acceptance of this marriage by Mr. Manu’s family should be kept in mind so as to ensure that Ms. Nandini and their daughter are not denied justice.
The family of Mr. Manu should be provided rehabilitation as per the provisions of Sec 13 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
The BBMP and BWSSB should jointly set-up a helpline which people can call to request services of Sucking and Jetting Machines and the helpline should be widely publicised.
On Jan 28, 2018, the Principal Secretary to the Revenue Department, Government of Karnataka, directed the organisers to demolish the insanitary latrines as reported by the The Hindu. Section 5 of the MSR Act 2013 states that
5. (1) Notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, no person, local authority or any agency shall, after the date of commencement of this Act,— (a) construct an insanitary latrine;
Any contravention of provisions of Section 5 is punishable under Section 8 of the MSR Act 2013. Hence, instead of directing the organizers of the religious festival, the administration should have filed criminal charges against the organizers for violation of the MSR Act 2013.
On 30 Jan 2018, after a visit to the site, members of Karnataka State Safai Karmachari Commission had brought this to the notice of the district administration and had issued a notice to the organizers to demolish all insanitary latrines, as reported by The Hindu.
Despite these directions, the insanitary latrines were not demolished. Under the Act, the Deputy Commissioner has the responsibility of ensuring that the prohibitory provisions are not violated but the Deputy Commissioner of Hassan district Ms. Rohini Sindhuri appeared to condone the violations. The News Minute had quoted her saying:
“The Tyagis are Digambar Jains and are set in their ways. They don’t use the sanitary toilets that we use. The township has been divided into 12 Nagars and Tyagi Nagar is being looked after by the Jain Mutt. The Safai Karamchari Commission and the Revenue Secretary has issued a notice to the mutt, but the religious leaders said that they will defecate in the open since it is their custom.”
She claimed that the festival was not violating the provisions of the MSR Act 2013. But the videos and the pictures below show clearly that the organizers chose to ignore these directions of the Commission and the Revenue Department even as the the district administration chose to look the other way and wilfully abetted the perpetuation of the casteist inhuman practice of manual scavenging.
2(1)(g) “manual scavenger” means a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or a local authority
or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or a State Government may notify, before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be
prescribed, and the expression “manual scavenging” shall be construed accordingly.
After this damning evidence surfaced, Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi Karnataka, submitted complaint to the Chief Secretary of Government of Karnataka and also submitted a memorandum to the Chairman of National Safai Karmachari Commission during their visit to Karnataka. Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi demanded that cases should be immediately booked under Sec 8 and 9 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and Sec 3(1)(j) of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 as amended in 2016 against the organizers of the event and the Deputy Commissioner of Hassan district who failed to ensure the dignity and human rights of dalit workers.
On 15.03.2018, the inspection was conducted in the presence of officials from Social Welfare Department, Tehsildar Office (Chennarayapattana), Panchayat Development Officer (Shravanbelegola) and Assistant Executive Engineer, Hassan, Karnataka Urban Water Supply Board.
We visited one portion of a temporary settlement called Tyaginagar built for the Jain monks. On one side of the settlement 72 dry latrines have been constructed exclusively for use by the monks. We were told that there were at least two more such latrine clusters which means upwards of 200 insanitary latrines.
There was clear evidence that these latrines had been used as some of them still had dry faecal matter and there was no flush system to clean the faeces without either using a bucket or a pipe.
The faecal matter had to be washed away using bucket or a pipe to pits dug up behind these latrines. The pits had been covered with tin sheds and strong smell was emanating from the used latrines and the pits. The space around the pits and latrines were closed off using tin sheets and it is not possible for Sucking Machines to enter the area and clean the latrines.
Section 2(1)(e) of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, defined insanitary latrines in following terms:-
“insanitary latrine” means a latrine which requires human excreta to be cleaned or otherwise handled manually, either in situ, or in an open drain or pit into which the excreta is discharged or flushed out”
Clearly the fecal matter from the latrines built at Shravanbelegola had to be cleaned manually and had been discharged into pits before decomposition as evidenced by the strong smell emanating from the pits.
Section 5(1)(a) of the 2013 Act prohibits construction of insanitary latrines:-
5. (1) Notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, no person, local authority or any agency shall, after the date of commencement of this Act,—
(a) construct an insanitary latrine;
Any violation of this prohibition is a punishable offense as per Sect 8 of the Act:-
8. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 5 or section 6 shall for the first contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees or with both, and for any subsequent contravention with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.
Section 22 of the 2013 Act states that
22. Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, every offence under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
Thus the police can take cognizance of offences under the Act even without a complaint but as yet there is not even an FIR in this case. Is the Deputy Commissioner above the law? Or is the dignity of dalit workers expendable?