The Delhi High Court on Monday took suo motu cognisance of a news report stating that two persons died in the city’s Mundka area after inhaling toxic gases in a sewer, Live Law reported.

The court named senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao as the amicus curiae, or friend of court, to assist the judges in the case.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad issued notices to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the chief secretary in the Delhi government and the Delhi Jal Board, seeking their stand on the matter.

The two persons who died in Mundka were Rohit Chandiliya, a sweeper, and Ashok Kumar, a security guard, according to PTI.

The police have filed a case under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with causing death by negligence.

Manual scavenging – or the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewer lines or septic tanks – is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. But the practice remains prevalent in many parts of India.

In July, the Centre had told the High Court in an affidavit that several of its initiatives had curbed the number of deaths due to cleaning sewers and septic tanks, according to The Times of India.

“The Centre is seriously concerned with the tragic incidents of deaths while cleaning sewers and septic tanks,” the affidavit had said. “Therefore, as and when such a case comes to its notice, the matter is immediately taken up with the state government concerned to ensure payment of compensation to the affected family members.”

It, however, said that sanitation is a state subject and that state governments are responsible for compliance with the 2013 Act.

On August 4, the Union government told the Lok Sabha that no one in the country is engaged in manual scavenging. However, it said that 330 persons died in accidents while cleaning sewers and septic tanks from 2017 to 2021.