Garbage stifles workers' cries

A queue of 20 trucks, filled to capacity with garbage, are parked near the Mandur landfill, under a steady drizzle on Sunday morning.

At the landfill, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) workers toil from 6 am to evening, their wet clothes soiled with dirt. On a normal day, some 300 loads used to be dumped at the site. In the last four days, however, this has increased to 800 loads. Each truck makes two trips to the landfill. The workers told Deccan Herald that they had worked late into the night on Saturday to clear the backlog.

With garbage piling up in the City, the Palike has been hard-pressed to clear the streets. As residents of outlying villages do not want trash to be deposited near their places, the Palike has desperately sought new dumping grounds. In the midst of all this, there is none to listen to the plight of the ordinary Palike workers.

“For a whole week there has been news about the frustration of residents. But have people thought about us?” asked Sampath Kumar, a Palike driver. “We have been in the midst of all the garbage. I heard that a resident who was protesting died. If one of us dies, will anyone notice?”

Several workers said they were following news about the issue. Many were outraged at a recent statement made by Governor H R Bhardwaj, who claimed he could clean up the city if only 20 people joined him.

 “There are 16,000 labourers trying to clean the city and the task looks endless. How will Bhardwaj clean the city with just 20 people? Instead of making such statements, government officials should spare a thought for our welfare,” said a driver, speaking on behalf of his colleagues.

Despite repeated pleas, workers said they had not been provided protective gear, including gloves and shoes.

“We wash our hands with soap. But when we eat, they still smell of garbage,” said Kumar.  Another worker, Thippanna, said many workers had to wear their own worn-out clothing and shoes to be able to work. Owner of a seven-acre farm in a drought-prone district of Andhra Pradesh, Thippanna said he came to Bangalore in the hope of making a better living. But in his five years with the Palike, working conditions had remained unchanged, he said.

Workers complained they had not been paid wages in the last few months. The highest salary among them was a mere Rs 5,000 a month. Palike officials, on their part, blame private contractors for withholding workers’ salaries.

To augment their income, many workers gather plastic waste from the loads of trash. Each kg of plastic bottles yields Rs three, while milk covers sell for Rs 10.

This way, most earn Rs 100 a day. Despite being unpaid, many workers said they continued to work in the hope that the Palike would soon resolve their problems.

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