New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Saturday asked the Chief Secretaries and Department of Labour of Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka to enquire into a plea filed to highlight the plight of crematorium or graveyard workers engaged in the last rites of Covid-19 deaths. The commission issued notice to the chief Secretaries and Principal Secretaries of the Department of Labour of Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka and asked them to submit the report.
The NHRC in its order stated "The allegations made in the complaint are serious in nature involving a violation of Human Rights. Such types of cases involving pathetic conditions, pain, and the plight of crematorium, cemetery, graveyard, Kabristan workers engaged in last rites of COVID-19 death cases, denial of statutory wages, poor working conditions in utter violation of COVID-19 guidelines, and inaction by the State authorities are viewed very seriously by the Commission." The petition was filed in the NHRC by Supreme Court lawyer and rights activist Radhakanta Tripathy in which the NHRC sought a response from the authorities within four weeks.
The petition cited the pan-India phenomenon with a request to the NHRC to act on a war footing on the issue of pain and plight of the crematorium, cemetery, graveyard, Kabristan, hearse workers engaged in last rites of COVID-19 death cases.
They have been denied statutory wages, are living in poor condition, and in utter violation of COVID-19 Guidelines, the plea said, adding that the pain and plight of crematorium/graveyard workers and hearse drivers have been continuing all over India as of now.
The plea said these workers are tired and hungry, overworked and under-protected, and yet the hardships of these unsung heroes have largely gone unnoticed.
As COVID-19 deaths surged, crematorium workers in Bengaluru, many of whom are Dalits, have been subjected to inhuman conditions - including non-payment of wages, denial of statutory benefits, under protection from the coronavirus, and forced to work long hours, the plea cited with a report of AICCTU, said the plea.
Tripathy, who has also raised the human rights issues of students, street children, homeless people, transgenders, sex workers, human rights defenders, journalists, migrant workers, government servants, and private persons engaged in the pandemic related work has stated in his petition that these workers suffer for long working hours of work with bad pay and health hazards with denial of statutory benefits.
He has given certain instances where the crematorium workers have lost their lives but got no relief. In India most of the workers engaged in crematoriums, graveyards, etc are belong to poor Scheduled Caste Community and face untold hardship always, the plea said.
"Their family members also suffer silently due to lack of resources and education. These are classic cases of violation of human rights committed by the State Authorities. The failure, negligence, and apathy of the Department of Labour, Social Justice and Empowerment, Home Affairs and Health of the States are responsible for the same," Tripathy alleged.
The NHRC to have a complete database with details as to how many workers are working in each state, status and amount of remuneration and other dues paid to them during the pandemic, arrears due to them, health protection measures instituted for their protection to discharge their professional functions, the plea said.
The plea also sought a direction for the government to set up a committee to look into the working conditions of crematorium workers, aimed at recognizing that the occupation is caste-based and taking concerted steps to ensure that the children of these workers have adequate access to education and employment, among other opportunities.
The plea urged the NHRC to take measures that should be taken to ensure the physical and financial safety of the workers, including providing them with PPE kits, free testing, vaccination, job security, compensation for working overtime, social security, and housing facilities with compliance of the provisions of Labour Laws, COVID-19 guidelines, SC/ST (POA) Act, and Social welfare legislation and legal action for violation of applicable laws.