Safety at stake

Appalling conditions

Safety at stake

Most people are content as long as waste is collected from their doorstep and are not bothered what happens thereafter. 

But the sight of pourakarmikas standing knee-deep in garbage and rummaging through it, in an effort to separate wet waste from dry waste, is not one that people can easily forget about.

Most of these workers are not only poorly paid but are also not provided with basic safety gears like hand gloves, gum boots, face masks when they are collecting and separating the garbage. The result — they develop skin diseases and respiratory problems. 

The pourakarmikas say that they are treated in the worst manner possible. They confess that they have not only contracted various skin diseases but have suffered bouts of dengue. Lakshmi, who works in a shift from six in the morning at Kasturinagar, says, “We are not given any protective gears. We end up working even after our shift hours but don’t get paid anything extra for that. And we don’t even have basic facilities like toilet and drinking water when we are on the job.” 

Nagamma, a contract labourer avers, “Thanks to overexposure to garbage, I contracted dengue. But I had to return to the same filth without any protective gear.” Guru, another contract labourer, says, “I developed rashes on my hands and face. The skin eventually peeled off but the marks remain. I also have breathing problems due to overexposure to garbage.” 

The BBMP officials say that the safety gears are supposed to be provided by the contractors. BBMP Commissioner M Lakshminarayana informs that there is a proposal by the BBMP to bring pourakarmikas under the direct employment of the BBMP but this is awaiting the government’s nod. 

“The contract for garbage collection and segregation has been given to contractors. It is clearly stated in the contract that safety gears such as gloves, gum boots and facial masks must be provided to pourakarmikas. We will see to it that this is enforced.” He further states that direct employment of pourakarmikas under the BBMP has multiple benefits such as health insurance, provident fund, dearness allowance, transport facilities and maternity leave.  

But according to Balan, president of All India Central Council of Trade Unions and in-charge of the welfare of pourakarmikas in the City, out of the existing pourakarmika workforce, only 20 to 25 per cent come under the purview of the BBMP. “The rest of them are hired on contract basis. There about 18,709 pourakarmikas in the City.

 It is mandatory for the corporation to provide safety equipment but none of this is provided to the workers. They also don’t get leave and other benefits such as maternity leave, canteen and drinking water facilities,” reasons Balan. He also states that they are exposed to toxic and non-toxic waste, in addition to being forced to separate wet waste which also includes raw meat.    

Doctors feel overexposure to garbage triggers skin infection and respiratory illnesses. Dr Kalpana Janardhan, senior consultant, internal medicine, Apollo Hospitals says, “Chances of pourakarmikas contracting air-borne diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis are high. 

A common skin infection that we see in most of them is cellulites of the skin which takes a long time to heal.” She adds, “I’ve also noticed that sometimes workers don’t wear protective gear and sell them for money to make both ends meet. This must be controlled.” 

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