The Delhi High Court on Friday directed the state government to compile data on manual scavengers in each district, the cleaning equipment they are given and the action taken against the people who employ them, PTI reported.

Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla gave the Department of Welfare Of SC/ST/OBC/Minorities three weeks to collect the data. The court has also asked for details regarding the health security and insurance cover that these workers get.

The judges directed the local bodies, including municipal bodies, Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Cantonment Board and the Public Works Department, to submit the information to the welfare department in two weeks. They would be held in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order, the judges warned the officials.

“If we cannot get this done, we should wind up our court work,” the judges said. The court was hearing a petition filed in 2007 for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. The matter will next be heard on May 23.

The order came just days after two of the five men who were trapped in a sewage plant of Vivanta by Taj Ambassador near Khan Market in Delhi and inhaled toxic gases died.

India has enacted two laws – the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act, 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 – to eventually eradicate the practice of manually cleaning, carrying and disposing human excreta and garbage from sewers.

Yet, manual scavengers across India still clean sewers at great risk to their lives. According to the Safai Karmachari Andolan, a movement to eradicate manual scavenging, at least 1,470 manual scavengers died at work between 2010 and 2017. There are an estimated 1.8 lakh people in the country working as manual scavengers.

Most of the time, they are not provided the mandatory safety gear by their employers, largely municipal agencies, making them vulnerable to fatal accidents. Even a protective cap is a luxury for most of them, let alone jackets, gloves and masks. As a consequence, many die from inhaling poisonous gases accumulated inside manholes, oxygen depletion, heat stress or from falling down the pit.