‘No money for food, rent, basic necessities’: Hundreds of pourakarmikas protest in B’luru

The protesters finally called off their strike after the BBMP assured them that all the wages due will be cleared in two days.
‘No money for food, rent, basic necessities’: Hundreds of pourakarmikas protest in B’luru
‘No money for food, rent, basic necessities’: Hundreds of pourakarmikas protest in B’luru

Imagine working for years to keep the city’s streets clean, without weekly offs and devoid of any protective gear. And after putting in years of your life in this job, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) denies your salary, claiming that you might not be on their rolls.

This is unfair treatment has been meted out to thousands of pourakarmikas who keep Bengaluru clean. A very high number of workers have not been paid their salaries since January.

Even worse, when pourakarmikas ask officials for their rightful salary, they are threatened with termination by ward-level officials. A majority of these workers fear talking to the media as they could be further targeted by BBMP officials.

On Tuesday, hundreds of pourakarmikas were once again forced to go on strike, demanding an immediate clearance of their dues. They gathered in huge numbers at the BBMP headquarters in Bengaluru and vowed not to leave without an assurance on their payment.

This is not the first time that workers had to sit in protest for their hard-earned wages. But this was the first time that hundreds of them brought their children to the protests. With the academic year set to begin soon, some of them do not have enough money to pay their children’s school fees.

“The workers have come with their children, demanding their wages. They are unable to pay school fees even as the annual year has begun. This is going to contribute to the school dropout rate,” Lekha Adavi, a lawyer-activist, who has worked closely with pourakarmikas, said.

Gangamma, who is over 50 years of age, is forced to walk from Ramamurthy Nagar to Banaswadi as she has not got her salary for the last two months.

“I have to take loans to meet my daily expenses and take care of my family. I have incurred debts even for travelling to work, so now I walk to work to save money,” she said.

She also has to take care of her two grandchildren, for her daughter died during childbirth and her son-in-law is an alcoholic.  

Vanjamma, a pourakarmika from Kammanahalli ward, said that she has not got her salary since January.

“How can I meet the expenses of my rent and other things? I have been asked to leave my room because I couldn't pay for three months,” she said.

Panchalaya, another pourakarmika, says she got her salary, but 28 others from Maruthiseva Nagar have not got their salary for three months. “We have been assured by the local health inspector that everyone’s dues will be paid soon,” she added.

BBMP Commissioner Maheshwar Rao claimed that these protesters are bogus workers and said that all eligible workers have been paid till April.

“We don't know how their names have got in. I have to check; I have no clue. We have given a list of names of people who have worked here for more than 1 year to get their biometrics recorded. Whoever is eligible for payment will get their dues. All those eligible have got their salaries till June,” he told TNM.

Lekha explained, “When the Commissioner says that dues have been cleared till April, he is referring to the micro plan, which dictates for every 700 citizens, there should be one pourakarmika.”

She added that for every ward, the BBMP has now estimated some number of pourakarmikas based on the 700:1 formula, irrespective of how many workers there are on the ground.  

“So they (the BBMP) have paid money to random people without following any procedure. Now imagine working for 20-25 years and then being told ‘don't come to work from tomorrow’,” Lekha said.

“In some wards, they have been paid partial amounts, like Rs 5000-Rs 6000 instead of the entire amount of Rs 14,000 that they are eligible for. There is nothing on paper except ward-level officers will say that they are following the orders of higher-ups. Then, workers are threatened of illegal termination, saying you don't need to turn up for work tomorrow for asking their rightful salary,” she added.

The protesters finally called off their strike after the BBMP assured them that all the wages due will be cleared in two days and no worker will be terminated for protesting. The workers were also promised their rightful ESI and PF cards.

Seema Sharma, an active solid-waste management volunteer, said the current situation is even worse than the system handled by the exploitative contractors in the past when they would only give pourakarmikas a part of their salary.

"Now the garbage mafia can at least claim they were paying something instead of the BBMP, which is not paying anything at all for months on end. It’s not that the BBMP does not have money as they are installing bins all over the city without proper planning. The pourakarmikas were made to suffer at the hands of contractors first, now they are stuck with corrupt BBMP officials,” Seema said.

The pourakarmikas, after years of struggle were finally regularised by BBMP in July, 2017 with the intervention of the state government.

According to BBMP’s admission, the civic body saves close to Rs 250 crore allocated for salaries to pourakarmikas as the garbage contractors used to fudge data and claim salaries for ‘ghost’ workers.

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