Unpaid, unable to afford treatment, 2 B'luru civic workers die of jaundice

Since the beginning of this year, several civic workers have contracted jaundice and even after two of them died, the BBMP has not bothered to help them, the workers allege.
Unpaid, unable to afford treatment, 2 B'luru civic workers die of jaundice
Unpaid, unable to afford treatment, 2 B'luru civic workers die of jaundice
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In April this year, 52-year-old Munivenkatamma, a civic worker and a resident of Bengaluru’s Ramamurthy Nagar, contracted jaundice. 

Within a few weeks, Munivenkatamma succumbed to her illness on April 30. In early July, Munivenkatamma’s colleague Lakshmamma too contracted jaundice and died on July 25. 

Munivenkatamma’s neighbour and colleague, Venkatamma (50), contracted the same disease earlier this month. Venkatamma now lies on her bed, unable to move and unable to afford treatment, because the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has not given her an ESI card. 

The ESI (Employees' State Insurance) card is a health insurance scheme which helps the civic workers avail treatment at any hospital.  

Residents of Ambedkar Nagar in Ramamurthy Nagar mostly work as pourakarmikas. Since the beginning of this year, several pourakarmikas have contracted jaundice and even after two of them died, the BBMP has not bothered to help them, they allege. 

“My mother (Venkatamma) has been working as a pourakarmika for 17 years now. When she fell sick, I took her to Bowring Hospital. They did so many tests and asked us to transfer her to the government hospital in KR Puram. There too, the doctors said that it was way past their ability to treat her. When we took her to a private hospital, they said that it would cost a couple of lakhs for her treatment. We don’t have that kind of money. So, she lies on her bed and I will take care of her till she dies,” says Ammulu, Venkatamma’s 26-year-old daughter. 

Venkatamma believes that the medical waste she picks up without wearing any protective gear caused the deterioration in her health. 

“All of us from this locality work as pourakarmikas in Banaswadi area. Since the beginning of this year, we have had to clean the waste disposed of by the pharmacy and a hospital which is in Banaswadi. We have to pick up blood-ridden gloves, syringes, soaked cotton, used sanitary napkins, used bandages and so many things. The BBMP does not give us any gloves. We have asked the AEE (Assistant Executive Engineer) so many times to give us safety gear. We only have one mask. It was only after we started cleaning the medical waste that all of us began contracting jaundice,” Venkatamma says. 

Just like Venkatamma, several pourakarmikas who work with her have also contracted jaundice. Suma, a 28-year-old Pourakarmika and Lakshmamma’s colleague, contracted the disease two weeks ago. Although she is recovering, she has not taken a sick leave, fearing a pay cut. 

“The Mayor keeps telling the media that we have got safety gear, we can take sick leave, that we have four offs in a month. Those are lies. If I do not go to work on one day and say I am sick, they will not consider it as sick leave. We do not get weekly offs, then how can we take sick leave? Who will pay for the household expenses? My husband is dead and my daughter is in boarding school. Who will pay for the food I have to eat every day? We don’t have the luxury to recover,” Suma says. 

When TNM contacted the senior health inspector, Vishwanath, and the junior health inspector, Manjunath, both of them blamed each other. 

“Manjunath is in-charge of ensuring that safety gear reaches the pourakarmikas. I will look into it,” Vishwanath said. 

Throwing the ball into Vishwanath’s court, Manjunath alleges that since Vishwanath is his superior, he does not have the liberty to make any decision without his approval. 

“These pourakarmikas have worked for less than a year. That’s why they have not got ESI card,” Manjunath adds. 

However, most of the pourakarmikas who have contracted jaundice allege that they have been working for over 15 years with the BBMP. 

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