Before a city can be beautified with smooth roads, painted walls, cropped trees and bright flowers, there are two groups of people who are responsible for the city to be liveable and their jobs are not easy.
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) powrakarmikas (garbage collectors), who are predominantly by women and Bengaluru Water Supply and Sanitation Board’s sanitation workers, who are mostly men, have not only been doing the dirty job year-round without a break, they have also risked their health and lives to keep this cosmopolitan city clean.
Contrary to many media reports that blame authorities for the deaths of sanitation workers in manholes and health issues that powrakarmika on civic bodies face, award-winning workers at the “Beautiful People, Beautiful Bengaluru” event hosted by Bengaluru Political Action Committee (BPAC) on Monday, had a rather different story to tell.
Forty-six-year-old Lakshmi Devi, who has been working as contract powrakarmika for 20 years in the Dasarahalli area of Bengaluru, did not deny that they were not affected by the kind of work they were doing. However, she said that she can’t think of doing another job for a living.
“We segregate heaps of garbage every day and regardless of the number of layers of protection gear we wear, we still fall sick. But our ward is so strict that even if any of our protective equipment is missing, we would be marked absent for the day, which means that the day’s salary would be cut,” Lakshmi Devi says.
Asked why they should be segregating garbage when segregation at source was the rule, Lakshmi Devi said, “Some people just don’t want to follow rules. We go up and tell them sometimes and when nothing can be done we have to do it.”
Prema, who is from Bagalgunte area (ward-14) in Bengaluru, took this job up after her husband passed away. “I have studied up to seventh standard and got married early. My husband left me with four children and I was the only earning member,” she said.
“When I was offered this job I wasn’t sure whether to take it up. But I soon realised if sweeping is all I can do perfectly and then why not? Instead of doing a bad job elsewhere, I might as well do a dirty job perfectly. This is award to how faithful I have been to this job” she added.
The contract labourers’ only demand was to the government to regularise their jobs and give them a better pay.
Dr. Sandhya, a BBMP doctor in Yelahanka Zone told The News Minute that BBMP conducts camps and workshops from time to time advising powrakarmika how to maintain hygiene and suggest preventive and curative medicines on a monthly basis.
“There have been cases of workers getting dengue and other types of flus. But the awareness programs have been very beneficial to take timely action,” Dr. Sandhya said.
Sanitation workers of BWSSB face health issues too, but the larger problem is that of death on the job.
Fifty-nine-year-old Raghavayya said that the main problem lies in workers not following the rules. He asserts that in his 35 years of service, the machines used to clean the manholes have made the job very easy for the sanitation workers.
“BBMP has given a manual, which has steps to follow on how to clean a manhole. I heard of the deaths that happen while cleaning. Some don’t wear proper gears, others don’t follow the rules. People just want to do things in a hurry,” he said.
“The rule asks them to keep the manhole open for some time until the toxic fumes diffuse and enter the manhole only if necessary. But many workers violate this rule,” he said.
Fifty-three-year-old Obalesha, another sanitation worker, has played a key role in the Swacch Bharath campaign. He alleged that many workers die while working is because they go to the place drunk.
“Most people feel going there drunk would make their work easier. I have no drinking problem nor do I smoke. In fact, I can see properly only with my left eye. If I have survived this job for 30 years, then I feel anyone could,” Oblesha said.