The pourakarmika, Shilpa P, was unwell for two days before she was tested for coronavirus.

Pourakarmikas paying homage to the departed pourakarmika Shilpa by observing a few minutes of silence in Bengaluru
Coronavirus Coronavirus Friday, July 17, 2020 - 20:37

A candlelight vigil was held in Bengaluru by activists and sanitation workers on Friday evening protesting the death of a pourakarmika who had COVID-19. 

The pourakarmika – 28-year-old Shilpa P – from Vishwanath Nagenahalli ward was unwell for two days before she was tested for coronavirus.

Her father, Srinivas MC, spoke to TNM about the struggle of finding a hospital bed with a ventilator. "We desperately reached out to seven hospitals but we were refused admission. We were told that a ventilator is not available and asked us to find a hospital with a ventilator," says Srinivas.

The test results returned positive on Wednesday and Shilpa was admitted to Dr BR Ambedkar Medical College in Bengaluru. However, her family says that they were unable to secure a hospital bed with a ventilator. "Ambedkar hospital had only one ventilator even though there are 250 COVID-19 beds here," alleges Srinivas.  

Srinivas said that his daughter was experiencing breathlessness when she was admitted to the hospital. 

Shilpa, who is a resident of Benson Town in the city, has been working as a pourakarmika for the last seven years. Her death has raised questions over the safety of sanitation workers in the city who are involved in handling waste on a regular basis. 

The Karnataka High Court on Thursday called for randomised testing of pourakarmikas in Bengaluru. The High Court also urged the state government to appoint an officer – G Kumar Naik – to supervise the BBMP's work in implementing the standard operating procedure in containment zones. Kumar Naik is the Principal Secretary of the Social Welfare Department.

Earlier in June, as many as 23 out of 80 pourakarmikas tested in Bengaluru's Deepanjali Nagar tested positive for the virus. 

"The testing done among pourakarmikas should be increased and the patients who test positive should be admitted to hospitals by the BBMP. They deserve to receive treatment first," said Srinavas MC, Shilpa’s father.

The BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha, a union of working pourakarmikas in Bengaluru, has made repeated representations to the Karnataka High Court asking for personal protection equipment (PPE) to be given to sanitation workers. A protest was held on July 10 by pourakarmikas in locations across Bengaluru, where workers register their attendance, seeking protective equipment from the state government. 

The union has also written to the BBMP asking for clarity on how many pourakarmikas have tested positive and how many have died in the city due to COVID-19. TNM reached out to several BBMP officials but they declined to comment on the issue. 

"The BBMP has to clarify whether pourakarmikas are working in containment zones, and how waste from homes where people are isolated is being handled," said Vinay Sreenivasa, a Bengaluru-based lawyer and activist. He asked for the BBMP to also clarify how many pourakarmikas have been tested and whether they have been provided PPE kits.

Randeep Dev, BBMP Special Commissioner, and Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner of the Solid Waste Department reached out to the Shilpa’s family and assured that the situation like this will not repeat again. 

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