The Delhi High Court on Thursday directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to pay Rs 10 lakh each as compensation to the family of two persons who died after inhaling toxic gases inside a sewer here last month. A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma remarked that it was unfortunate that even after 75 years of Independence, the poor were forced to work as manual scavengers and asked the DDA, under whose jurisdiction the incident took place, to pay the compensation, as mandated under the law, forthwith.
The bench, also comprising Justice Subramonium Prasad added that the DDA shall also consider granting compassionate appointment to the family of the deceased persons and sought the presence of the vice chairman of the authority in case the order is not complied with till the next date of hearing. The order was passed on a public interest litigation (PIL) initiated by the court on its own based on a news report of the incident.
A sweeper and a security guard died on September 9 in Outer Delhi’s Mundka area after they inhaled toxic gases inside a sewer. When the sweeper had gone down to clean the sewer, he fainted and the guard followed to rescue him and he also fell unconscious, the police had said.
“It is unfortunate that even after 75 years of Independence, poor people are forced to work as manual scavenger and the (laws on the issue) are not being followed," said the court. “As the DDA has prima facie resolved to pay compensation, keeping in view the judgement of the Supreme Court, the DDA is directed to pay Rs 10 lakh each as compensation to the family of the two deceased and also to consider their claim to grant compassionate appointment in terms of the Supreme Court judgement and statutory provisions," the order ordered.
“The decision shall be communicated to the court in 30 days. It is made clear that if the order is not complied with, vice chairman of DDA shall remain present in court on the next date of hearing," it added. The counsel appearing for the DDA informed the court that the deceased were cleaning the drain in the absence of any instructions from them and a committee has been formed in relation to the incident.
It was added that “not a single DDA official recommended" the deceased to clean the sewer and the work was outsourced. Asking the DDA to pay the compensation “at the first instance" as per the law and not form “committee after committee", the court observed that responsibility can be decided at a later stage and the authorities were free to take other legal action.
“At the first instance you have to pay. We will decide responsibility later on. Give a job. It happened under your jurisdiction. Take action, file FIR. You know the law," the court said. Amicus Curiae Rajshekhar Rao said there was “lack of apathy" on part of the authorities who were making an “attempt to distance responsibility".
He said the “fact is that the staff was DDA’s" and the DDA, which was “clearly in the know". On the last date of hearing, Delhi government counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi had said that an FIR has already been registered concerning the incident and the executing agency should be made liable.
Earlier, the court was informed by the counsel for the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) that the area where the incident took place was under DDA and even the sweeper was an employee of DDA. On September 12, the high court had taken suo motu cognisance of the death of the two persons based on a news report and directed that a PIL be registered on the issue.
The matter would be heard next on November 14.