The lives down the drain

- November 30, 2022

Sanitation workers are among those least interested in the upcoming MCD elections as many of their promises haven’t been met

STANDING UP: MCD workers protest against the non-payment of their dues. (Photos: Faisal Malik)

Even as election fever has gripped the Capital thanks to the looming MCD polls, a section of Delhiites responsible for the hygiene in our neighbourhoods, has given it thumbs down.

The sanitation workers, employed by the corporation, let their grievances known to the media and public just a week before the polls. Their anger was evident in the way they shrugged off a party campaigner who had dropped in at the press meet to earn their votes.

“Every time elections approach, every political party makes promises to us,” RB Untwal, chairman of the MCD Swachhata Karamchari Union, told Patriot after apprising the media of their problems in the conference held on Tuesday.

“But it is sad [that they don’t follow up on promises]. Even in 2012 [MCD elections], political parties had written in their manifestos that they will make our jobs permanent but no one has done anything till date,” he complained.

Also read: The inhospitable hospitals

While the corporation has more than 50,000 workers, over 7,000 of them still don’t have permanent employment. Around 5,000 employees were made regular in 2013 but no action was taken on employing the others permanently.

“Employees who have retired are not getting their benefits yet. Pensioners are not getting their pensions for the last 6 months, neither are they getting medical facilities. They are not getting safety gears, medical insurance, housing quarters under the Ambedkar Awas Yojana. All these issues are yet to be resolved,” added Untwal further.

“Sanitation workers are dying because of this hazardous work. Their families are struggling to survive. It has become a burning issue for all sanitation workers. I have been in this union for 35 years. Till now, only assurances have been given to us. Politicians remember us only at the time of elections, make big promises and forget them. All the promises that were made till now have turned out to be hollow,” explained Untwal. He said that four workers had died in his neighbourhood due to the hazards of the occupation.

Earlier this year in October, the MCD All Unions Core Committee called for a strike to push their demands including regularisation of all staff hired since 2010, payment of arrears and the announcement of a Diwali bonus.

Even those who have received the offer letter are yet to join as polls take precedence.

“300 workers who were placed after their family members had died while cleaning sewers, got job offer letters in their hand in October this year (and only following protests by the union members). Ironically, they haven’t joined yet, nor has their medical test been done. The police verification also hasn’t been done yet. It seems they have been handed a lollipop as they are still figuring out when they can join,” said Rohtash Silani, president of the Delhi Pradesh Safai Karamchari Sangh.

“Most of us started working as sanitation workers at a very young age. Now that we have become old serving as sanitation workers, we still haven’t been made permanent yet. Many of our co-workers died while cleaning sewers but their families haven’t received any compensation yet,” added Silani.

Sanitation workers, who clean sewers, septic tanks and open drains, are always at risk of losing their life as they go in without safety gear.

PAYMENT FALLOUT – Garbage lying on a road in the city

Arun Kumar, who has been working with MCD for 25 years, said, “The workers are exploited in every way, including by private agencies. They are overworked but underpaid. Despite laws, rules and guidelines protecting them, the situation of sewer workers is deteriorating on a daily basis.”

Rakesh Tomar, 56, who has been serving as a sanitation worker for 15 years, said that the workers are always scared of losing their jobs.

“Thousands of sewer workers are employed on a contract basis in Delhi. Working with dangerous and lethal gasses is a dangerous job. Most workers become ill as a result of continuous exposure to these gasses or suffer injuries on the job. But they do not receive any compensation or healthcare assistance,” he explained.
The situation of workers at the three landfills in Delhi is pretty bad.
Shahnawaz Alam, 33, a resident of Jahangirpuri who works as a contractual worker at the Bhalaswa Landfill put forth the problems of those workers who are migrants and do not have a vote here.

“All these political parties are using these landfills for votes. No one wants to work on this matter or else they’ll lose this issue for the next elections. They don’t care about us and our lives. There are hundreds of workers working on these sites, on daily and contractual basis without any basic equipment. We don’t even have masks and gloves, and our lives are always at stake. We don’t even have proper medical facilities, but that’s nothing for them, because we are not voters. Most of us are migrants from other states and we don’t have any voting rights,” he said, expressing dismay.

Just days before the polls, on November 25, the Delhi High Court had directed the Delhi government to ensure ‘strict compliance’ with the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the rules in a PIL that raised concerns about sanitation employees’ working conditions and facilities in Delhi.

The division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad had decided that the state government must consider the recommendations made by the Delhi Commission of Safai Karamcharis (DCSK) and make a decision “positively within 60 days of any such recommendation being made to the government.”

But Untwal doesn’t see even a ray of hope.

“We don’t have much hope from this election. Many promises are made at the time of every election, but till date none of the promises have been fulfilled,” he concluded.

(With inputs from Ali Fraz Rezvi)

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