At 30 years of age, Rishabh (name changed on request), works for more than seven hours every day cleaning every road assigned to him in Andheri besides collecting and carrying it to garbage vans. In his 6-year-old sweeping career, he says he has rarely come across a word of encouragement from citizens.
Like Rishabh, there are 28,018 sweepers across Mumbai, who pick up and handle waste to ensure the city’s streets remain clean. “There less than a handful of citizens who talk to us properly. We are the ones who keep their surroundings clean, but we still are insulted with derogatory names,” said Rishabh.
These sweepers work in the morning shift and every sweeper has to manage 500m of road — two sweepers have to manage 1km of road — and the job includes sweeping the area and collecting waste. Their monthly salary ranges between Rs 14,000 and Rs 16,000.
“We start our day with cleaning roads, footpaths, dividers, then the next step is brushing these areas. We also have to pick up dead animals. We also scrub and clean dustbins, which are often stained with gutka and paan. But the area around dustbins get dirty immediately after we clean them,” said Rishabh.
Often, they are forced to sweep the area twice in an hour. “We diligently clean roads every day, but citizens have completely failed to follow a single rule. In a majority of residential areas and outside shops, there is a problem of illegal parking. We are unable to clean the area for which we are later reprimanded by our superiors,” said Dilip Tambe, another sweeper.
Rishabh also said there are bigger concerns in slum areas and illegal settlements because people often get into scuffle when asked to dump garbage in community bins.
The conservancy workers (sweepers, motor loaders) were also visibly angry with celebrities, who land up in their areas for photographs under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. “We clean the premises daily, but we are never respected. Instead, for these photographs we are usually pressurised to clean the area before the celebrities arrive,” said another sweeper.