Slum sanitation workers of scrapped BMC scheme protest at M East ward office | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Slum sanitation workers of scrapped BMC scheme protest at M East ward office

Feb 29, 2024 09:26 AM IST

The BMC had announced the scrapping of the SMPA scheme in December 2023 and in February invited bids for a contractor under whom slum cleaning would take place. The civic body said that 7,388 workers would be employed under a single contractor for all the 26 wards, at a cost of ₹350 crore per annum

MUMBAI: With the BMC inviting bids from a contractor for its new slum cleaning programme, the approximately 10,000 “volunteers” in charge of slum sanitation under the scrapped Swachh Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan (SMPA) are staring at a bleak future. Around 300 workers and several organisations gathered in protest at the BMC’s M East ward office on Wednesday morning.

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The BMC had announced the scrapping of the SMPA scheme in December 2023 and in February invited bids for a contractor under whom slum cleaning would take place. The civic body said that 7,388 workers would be employed under a single contractor for all the 26 wards, at a cost of 350 crore per annum.

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Calling the SMPA scheme a failure, the BMC said the scheme had not managed to keep the slums clean due to a lack of accountability among the sanitation volunteers. Launched in 2013, the SMPA was preceded by the Dattak Vasti Yojana of 2001, which was declared a failure due to corruption. The two schemes were almost similar and the SMPA was, in effect, a renaming of the Dattak Vasti Yojana. The 10,000 volunteers in the scheme have thus been working for over 20 years now.

Sanitation volunteers in SMPA were employed from employment cooperatives, women’s self-help groups, NGOs and other organisations. Sangita Kamble, one of the leaders of the protest organised by the Vasti Swachata Abhiyaan Samanvaya Samiti, a collective of organisations working in M East ward, expressed concern at their future. “What will happen to the people who worked under the scheme?” she asked. “Many of them have been working in the slums for 20 years.”

At the same time, however, the protestors agreed that plenty is wrong with the current scheme. For starters, the volunteers are paid a paltry 5,400 per month. The technical designation of “volunteers” also leaves them out of the ambit of any employment benefits and protection.

“The scheme employs one volunteer for every 150 houses, or 750 people, but this is according to the 2011 census,” said Sambodhi Kamble, who has worked with the volunteers since the early 2000s. “The number doesn’t match the ground reality anymore, so the volunteers have to handle the burden of many more houses. All of this while not being paid enough and without any benefits that come with being an employee.”

The organisations also have to bid for the SMPA contract every six months, and are only paid 600 per volunteer per month for formalities like ID cards and so on. Other organisations such as the Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti had also objected to the SMPA scheme, and making changes to it has been a long-standing demand.

Despite improvements in the new contract, such as a pay hike for the workers as per the minimum wage up to 20,000 per month, the protestors were, however, opposed to the new contract as well. They claimed it would reduce the workers’ agency and make them subservient to the contractor but, more importantly, there was no guarantee that the SMPA workers would retain their jobs under the new contractor. An official from the BMC’s solid waste department, when asked, said that as of now, there were no set plans to make it a point to include the past volunteers under the new contract, as it all depended on the contractor.

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