Delhi HC directs civic bodies to suspend biometric attendance due to COVID-19 risk

New Delhi [India], June 11 (ANI): The Delhi High Court on Thursday directed municipal authorities to suspend the biometric system for marking attendance to avoid COVID-19 infection and asked to maintain a record of the equipment given to the safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) who report for duty.

The court also said the register used by the safai karamcharis to sign while reporting for duty can account for the nature of equipment given to them on a daily basis and the nature of work they are required to perform.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said "On a perusal of the affidavits and the material placed on record, we are satisfied that adequate steps have been taken by the state and civic authorities to ensure the safety of the safai karamcharis. We have also perused the WHO Guidelines filed by the petitioner."

The bench observed that the affidavits filed by various municipal corporations would show, by and large, the guidelines laid down by the WHO are being adhered to.

"It has come on record that PPE Kits are being provided on a daily basis to the safai karamcharis required to enter the containment zones and these PPE kits are not reused. The affidavits also indicate that an adequate number of masks (surgical and N-95) and gloves are being provided to the safai karamcharis. The biomedical waste is also being disposed of in accordance with the mandate of the Pollution Control Board," it said.

The bench said that the Advisory issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is clear and it recommends against the spraying of individual or group.

"It states that the use of chemical disinfectant is physically and psychologically harmful for human beings. In view of this, the action of the Municipal Corporations in not setting up sanitizing cubicles is justified," it said.

The court passed above directions while disposing of the petition, filed by social activist Harnam Singh through advocate Mahmood Pracha, which sought directions for the safety of lakhs of sanitation workers who have been carrying out waste collection and disposal amidst the coronavirus crisis.

The affidavit filed by the Delhi government stated: "Till June 1, 2,98,410 PPE kits have been procured from the Central Government out of which 2,75,700 PPE kits have been distributed to the GNCTD hospitals and other health institutions. 22,710 PPE kits have been distributed to CDMOs and the state authorities. Apart from the above, 21,500 PPE kits have been given to SDMC, 12,250 PPE Kits have been provided to EDMC and 15,500 PPE kits have been given to NDMC."

South Delhi Municipal Corporation in the affidavit on June 8, stated that about 14,000 safai karamcharis have been attending duty on a daily basis during the lockdown period.

"There are 82 containment zones in the SDMC, as on June 4, 2020. One safai karamchari is being deputed in each containment zone for street sweeping only. All the safai karamcharis working in the containment zones are being provided PPE kits which are not reusable," SDMC told the court.

East Delhi Municipal Corporation stated that where there is barricading/police picket, the safai karamcharis do not enter the containment zone and the various households situated in those areas deposit their routine garbage/waste at barricade/entry points manned by the Police and safai karamcharis collect the garbage from the entry point.

It stated that only the special designated team deals with garbage in quarantine/isolated households.

Whereas North Delhi Municipal Corporation stated that there are 59 Containment zones and two safai karamcharis have been provided for each containment zone who have been apprised of the standard operating procedure to be followed.

"There are 25 docking stations for the containment zones and these docking stations have been established only for the purposes of collection and removal of garbage for the areas in the Containment zones," NDMC stated.

Before the court, the petitioner had earlier approached the Supreme Court for securing the safety of the "vulnerable and highly exposed" sanitation workers. The apex court had disposed of the petition while recording the categorical submission that adequate safety equipment was being provided to them as per mandatory WHO guidelines.

"Even though the order implies that the safety of all sanitation workers has been ensured by strict compliance with guidelines for disbursement of protective equipment to them, the petitioner has come across information from several sources, including news articles, of the completely hapless and offensive extent to which sanitation workers have been left to fend for themselves," the plea said.

It said that the sanitation workers largely belong to economic weaker section and that these workers are unlikely to have the means and opportunity to approach the court, and therefore the petitioner moved the petition in the public interest. (ANI)