The Delhi Jal Board, MCD, NDMC and other such agencies will have to ensure minimum safety and health standard for sewerage and other unorganised workers by giving them free medical treatment, thanks to a Supreme Court verdict.
Families of workers employed by civic agencies such as the Delhi Jal Board and Municipal Corporation of Delhi will henceforth be entitled to immediate ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh.
A bench of justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly has upheld the order of the Delhi high court in this regard. The bench rejected DJB’s petition, challenging the directions of the HC to provide headgears, oxygen mask and other apparatus to sewage workers, as scores had succumbed to poisonous fumes from manholes. Around 19 workers died in 2003, while 12 lost their lives in 2004.
Acting on a petition, filed by the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers, seeking safety measures to sewage workers employed in hazardous occupation, the HC had also asked the board to deposit Rs 79,000 with the State Legal Aid Services Authority to compensate the family of Rajan, who died after inhaling gas in 2009.
“The (DJB) appeal is also illustrative of how the state apparatus is insensitive to the safety and well-being of those who are, on account of sheer poverty, compelled to work under unfavourable conditions,” the SC said.
The bench regretted that even those who are killed in police action get compensation in the form of ex-gratia announced by the political apparatus of the state.
“However, neither the law makers nor those who have been entrusted with the duty of implementing the laws enacted for welfare of the unorganised workers have put in place appropriate mechanism for protection of persons employed by or through contractors to whom services meant to benefit the public at large are outsourced by the state and/or its agencies/instrumentalities like the appellant for doing works, which are inherently hazardous and dangerous to life nor made provision for payment of reasonable compensation in the event of death,” the bench said.
“The state and its agencies/instrumentalities or the contractors engaged by them are under a constitutional obligation to ensure the safety of the persons who are asked to undertake hazardous jobs. The argument of choice and contractual freedom is not available to the appellant and the like for contesting the issues raised by respondent number 1,” the apex court said.