Maharashtra: Following HC rap, GR issued to provide compensation to widows of 3 manual scavengers

After a wait of two years, widows of three workers who died while cleaning a septic tank at a Govandi Housing Society in 2019 are set to get compensation with the state government’s social justice department issuing a Government Resolution (GR) in the regard on Tuesday.

A compensation of Rs 10 lakh each was awarded by the High Court to the three women more than two months back, but since the money was not paid, their advocate, Isha Singh, brought the matter to the court’s notice earlier this month.

Vimla Govind Chorotiya, Neeta Santosh Kalshekar, and Bani Vishwajit Debnath had lost their husbands in December 2019.

Despite representation made to the Mumbai Suburban Collector in January 2020 for the payment of Rs 10 lakh compensation and rehabilitation in accordance with the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013 and the Supreme Court’s decision in Safai Karamchari Andolan v/s Union of India case, no compensation was paid to the women for over one-and-a-half years.

The women then approached the Bombay HC through a Writ Petition in June this year, requesting that the state government be directed to pay the compensation and provide rehabilitation.

On September 17, the Bombay HC directed the Collector to pay Rs 10 lakh to the women as compensation within four weeks besides providing them rehabilitation. The state is at liberty to recover the amount from the private employer of the deceased.

Despite almost two months passing from the date of the order, no compensation was paid to the widows, said Singh.
When the matter was not heard on two subsequent dates, she moved the vacation bench where Justice S Kathawala, after reviewing the September order, expressed shock and called the case an “eye-opener”, Singh added.

“When the State was hesitant to give an undertaking to pay the amount within a week, Justice Kathawala…directed that the undertaking has to be given failing which the court would haul them up for contempt…The Court directed that the State report its compliance with the undertaking before the appropriate bench on November 18, 2021 at 5 PM,’’ said Singh.

In its GR, the social justice ministry said that Concrete Builder and Morya SRA CHS had paid Rs 3.75 lakh of which 1.25 lakh was given to each widow. The remaining sum of Rs 26.25 lakh had to be paid to them for which the department has asked the Suburban Collector to recover the money from the society and builder. If the society/builder is not capable enough, then the money should be paid from contingency fund, the GR said.

When contacted by The Indian Express, additional chief secretary Jayshree Mukherjee, who is in charge of the social welfare department, said she was on leave and would not be able to comment on the matter. Suburban collector Nidhi Chaudhari did not answer calls.

Singh said, “The GR is a huge win for safai karamcharis within Maharashtra because it acknowledges the role of the State even when the deaths occur in private societies. As per the PEMSR Act, the burden to enforce the ban rests on the District Collector, and finally some accountability is being affixed on the State. It is unfortunate that it took a warning by the Bombay High Court for the Maharashtra Government to issue the GR, but at least it’s a start.”