Around five people employed as manual scavengers die every month, the Supreme Court said today, pulling up the government for not providing protective gear like gas masks and oxygen cylinders to such workers. "Nowhere in the world are people sent to gas chambers to die," the court said during a hearing of the centre's plea for a recall of its controversial judgment of last year on the law protecting Scheduled Casts and Tribes.
It has been alleged by Scheduled Caste groups that the order - banning immediate arrest for complaints under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act -- dilutes the law, leaving them vulnerable.
The court said the onus of protecting the people was on the Centre and it applied to something like manual scavenging too, where belonging to Scheduled Castes work.
"These are most inhuman cases. This is happening every day in the country," said Justice Arun Mishra, who was leading the three-judge bench hearing the case.
"Seventy years have gone by (since Independence) but untouchability is there in the country. You have to take care of them (manual scavengers). Everyone is equal in this country and there can be no discrimination on basis of caste," said the bench.
Appearing for the government, Attorney General KK Venugopal - the government's senior-most law officer - said people die not only during manual scavenging but also pot holes that cause road accidents.
"There is not a single case where a magistrate has taken action on his own in case of death during manual scavenging," he said.
The law of torts, meaning fixing responsibility in civil cases, is not implemented in the country, Mr Venugopal added.
In its petition, the Centre had argued that the top court's March 2018 order diluted a stringent provision of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and had "seriously affected" morale of the Scheduled castes and tribes and their confidence in the government's ability to protect them.
The court maintains that the change in the law was necessary to protect the innocent, and it is being misused on certain occasions and public servants were being stopped from doing their duty.
The top court has reserved its verdict on the review petition.