A parliamentary standing committee has questioned the inaction of the Centre and state governments in releasing compensation to the families of 104 persons who died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks.

The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment headed by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Rama Devi expressed concern on the subject in a report tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 16. The panel told the Centre’s Department of Social Justice and Empowerment to take action to immediately settle the cases.

“The committee would be happy if there is no further dilly-dallying in awarding compensation in pending 104 cases and information in this regard is furnished to the Committee,” it said.

In 2014, the Supreme Court had directed that compensation of Rs 10 lakh should be paid to the kin of those who died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks from 1993 onwards.

The committee, in its report, said that it was not happy with “the pace in which the things are being processed”. It added that the onus of implementing policy decisions lies with the Union government.

“The committee reiterates their earlier recommendation and desire that the family of the deceased should be compensated in a time bound manner so that they are not let to suffer endlessly,” it said.

The panel added that norms should be fixed to ensure deterrence so that “no one has courage to engage persons in violation of the laid down norms and if anyone is found violating the norms, the responsibility of the guilty is fixed without delay”.

The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment told the panel that it has been regularly pursuing the matter with state governments. It said that first information reports have been lodged in 537 out of 973 cases of such deaths. The cases have been lodged against the persons prima facie responsible for employing persons for hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks, it said.

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.

On August 2, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that there were no reports of anyone in the country being engaged in manual scavenging. However, it said that 330 persons died in accidents while cleaning sewers and septic tanks between 2017 and 2021.