Whenever 20-year-old Rajesh Ningappa passes by the grand heritage building of the Bombay high court, a smile runs through his face.
His joy is short-lived though and highlights the bitter irony of his situation. “We sweep the roads that lead millions to this centre of justice. But who cares for us?” he often wonders. Another worker, Sanjeev Yallur, who is responsible for keeping the roads outside the gothic Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) building clean, shares Ningappa’s predicament and plight.
They are among 80 contractual workers, who slog through the night to keep the roads sparkling clean in ward A of the city, but in return get a measly sum of Rs3,600 as monthly remuneration. A recent survey conducted in 24 civic wards revealed that conservancy workers of ward A are the most exploited, followed by wards C & D. Among the wards, which fared well are M-East, P-North, H-East, H-West.
Instead of the mandatory Rs247 per day, these workers get just about half the amount — Rs120 per day — that too in cash and without any documentary evidence. How could the discrimination continue unabated in a ward that houses the rich and boasts to be the power centre of the state? Milind Ranade, general secretary of Kacchra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh, the union that conducted the survey, blames it on the unorganised manner of protests.
“This ward never had any union to lend a helping hand to workers, and so the contractors here had a free run.” The BMC says it has strict rules to ensure that workers are paid properly. “Before we pay these contractors, we make them pay the workers in post-dated cheques in the presence of our officials. Only then do we release their payments,” said BP Patil, chief engineer (solid waste management).
Workers deny civic body’s tall claims. Hemant Sawant, a conservancy worker, said, “We have always received our monthly remuneration in cash.” When the Hindustan Times contacted one of the four contractors from this ward, he admitted that workers were being poorly paid. “Out of the amount that we receive from the BMC, we can only pay them Rs150, and sometimes even less. The rest is kept aside to bribe civic officials. When I have to grease the palms of the BMC officials, how do I pay full wages to workers?”