Pourakarmikas, the sanitary workers, in Bengaluru have launched fresh protests against the BBMP again, this time against the removal of two workers who spoke out against the non-payment of minimum wages entitled to them.
Hundreds of protestors, mobilised by the BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha, an organisation affiliated to the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), gathered at the Mahadevapura BBMP office on Wednesday to highlight the plight of two workers – Amar and Abraham – who they claim were wrongfully removed from their jobs. Amar is a pourakarmika working in Marathahalli and Abraham works in Hagaduru.
According to the proceedings of the BBMP Ward Committee in Hagaduru, Abraham was removed for “not carrying out his cleaning work properly” and “forming groups and unions among pourakarmikas and wasting time.”
Activists allege that Amar, a pourakarmika from Mahadevapura (Ward 54), was removed for highlighting discrepancies in waste collection and the use of auto-tippers. TNM has not been able to access ward committee proceedings to independently confirm his dismissal.
"The ward committee has taken a decision to remove the workers but it has no authority to do so. The committee members are employed by BBMP to look at how solid waste management is taking place. Despite this, in two wards, workers have been dismissed by the ward committee. We are contesting this because these workers were previously questioning the contractor for not paying full minimum wages to them," explains Lekha Adavi, an activist working with the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sangha.
The discrepancies in the use of auto-tippers in Bengaluru were also highlighted by the Aam Aadmi Party earlier this week. Party officials alleged that garbage contractors are ‘looting’ Rs 89.5 crore from the BBMP in the name of deploying more auto tippers.
Meanwhile, Appanna, another activist from AICCTU, added that Abraham, in particular, was targeted for filing a complaint against a contractor, Puneeth from Hagaduru in 2017. Abraham had alleged Puneeth of forcing him to do manual scavenging work. Manual scavenging work is prohibited by law but the inhuman practice continues to take place today.
Appanna added that NC Jagadeesh, the BBMP Joint Commissioner for the Mahadevapura zone, had promised to look into the issue and resolve it by speaking to ward-level officials.
This is not the first time pourakarmikas have protested to fight for their rights in Bengaluru. In 2018, pourakarmikas in the city had staged protests against the BBMP after the civic body failed to pay wages for up to six months.
The issue came to the fore after a new biometric-based payment system for pourakarmikas was introduced in January 2018. The system was brought in so that the BBMP can pay genuine workers directly and remove 'fake' workers who were being paid by contractors. However, many pourakarmikas were not paid in spite of registering their attendance and working every day.
Pourakarmikas in the city had then been forced to resort pawning off their jewellery, selling their utensils and even pulling their children out of school to be able to manage without being paid their rightful wages.