The Delhi High Court has directed government company DSIIDC to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation each to the families of two manual scavengers who died while cleaning a sewer in Bawana Industrial Area here.
The court said Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (DSIIDC), which is responsible for developing and providing industrial infrastructure facilities to the entrepreneurs here, should have taken necessary steps to ensure that sewers are not opened for cleaning purposes by anyone.
Justice V Kameswar Rao said that any mishap would suggest a lapse on the part of DSIIDC and directed it to pay the amount to the wife and mother of victims Tilak Ram and Bhagwan Singh respectively within three months.
"In view of the prohibition, the DSIIDC should have taken necessary steps to ensure that the sewers are not opened for cleaning purposes by anybody. Any mishap occurring surely would suggest a lapse on the part of DSIIDC.
"Moreover the grant of compensation would not await a decision as to who was negligent to compel the deceased persons to go into the sewer lines. The liability being strict, this court is of the view that the DSIIDC shall pay an amount of Rs 10 lakh each to the petitioners (families)," the court said.
It, however, granted liberty to the PSU body to claim the money from the person, who would be held guilty for the crime in the FIR registered in October 2011.
According to the families, the two victims had stepped into the blocked sewer for cleaning it, but due to non-supply of safety equipment, masks and oxygen cylinder by the contractors, they lost consciousness after inhaling gases in the duct and died on the spot in 2011.
They said the victims were the sole bread earners and they have been living in poverty after their family members' death.
The court noted that there was a "complete prohibition from engagement or employment for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tanks" under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act.
The court rejected the plea of DSIIDC that neither it nor any of its contractors had engaged the two victims for cleaning of the sewer lines.
It said this would not absolve it of the obligation to pay compensation if a person dies cleaning the same and noted that unfortunately, the authorities have denied their obligation to pay damages.
"Surely, the victims would not have entered the sewer lines willingly unless someone had induced them to pay some money for cleaning it and the payment of money must have attracted them to earn livelihood for themselves and for their families.
"The compulsion of the dead persons was to earn some remuneration and having died in the course of earning remuneration, someone must be held responsible for the negligence, which resulted in their death," the court said.
It said though an FIR has been lodged, the victims' families cannot wait for compensation.
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