The East Delhi Municipal Corporation has devised a novel way to improve the efficiency of its sanitation workers (safai karamcharis). It will simply rechristen them.
Municipal sanitation workers will now be known as ‘paryavaran sahayak’ or environmental helpers.
The corporation leaders believe this will bring respect and dignity of profession to over 60,000 sanitation workers who work for the three municipal corporations.
Sources in the municipal corporations said the North and South Delhi Municipal Corporation also plan to change the name of sanitation workers.
“The sanitation workers are the pillars of our plans to keep the environment clean. Calling them safai karamcharis did not seem honourable. Therefore, we have decided to refer to all our sanitation workers as Paryavaran Sahayaks,” said Raj Kumar Dhillon, east Delhi deputy mayor.
Sources said that apart from a name change, the corporations also plan to change uniforms of the sanitation workers. There are plans to conduct training exercises for them.
The proposal received mixed reactions from the unions of sanitation workers. Some unions welcomed the name change, saying it will be a “huge morale booster”. But some others said the corporation should instead try to improve their working conditions.
“The change of name will benefit the workers psychologically. An honourable name will help the workers carry out their duties more efficiently. We welcome the move by EDMC and hope that other corporations will also follow,” said Sanjay Gahlot, president of Swatantra Mazdoor Vikas Sanyukt Morcha.
Other unions, however, were not impressed.
“How is a name change going to help the workers? The corporation should have rather paid the arrears which have been pending for more than a decade or agreed to their demand of making the contractual employees permanent. A change of name will not improve the working conditions. The corporations must first think about that,” said Rajinder Mewati, general secretary of the United Front of MCD Employees.
The municipal sanitation workers had gone on strike thrice in the past one year over non-payment of dues. The three corporations were struggling to stay afloat due to a crippling financial crisis. The strike, one of which continued for 15 days, had triggered a sanitation crisis in the national capital.
“The real reason why sanitation workers, continue to work as sanitation workers generation after generation is the deep-rooted caste system in the country,” said Bezwada Wilson, founder of Safai Karamchari Andolan and winner of this year’s Magsaysay Award.
“However, the government agencies are oblivious of the real reasons behind their problems and now have found a new way to reinstate the caste by changing names. The changing of names seems like a way to glorify and ornamentalise the caste system. Such gimmicks must be stopped,” Wilson said.
In his budget speech for the current financial year, rail minister Suresh Prabhu had also announced to replace “coolie” for porters with “sahayaks” or helpers.