Workers’ org opposes tender for centralisation of slum sanitation | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Workers’ org opposes tender for centralisation of slum sanitation

Apr 03, 2024 08:18 AM IST

Fearing they could lose their jobs once the new company comes in, the workers, engaged by the BMC under the SMPA scheme on a measly pay of ₹5,600 per month, have urged the court to cancel the tender. In three hearings held so far, the court has urged the BMC to absorb 30-40% of them under the new tender

Mumbai: The Mumbai Shahar Berojgar Seva Sahakari Sanstha, a federation of 584 sanitation, waste segregation and allied workers’ societies in the city, has taken the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to court over a tender that will replace nearly 2,300 organisations engaged in cleanliness work in the slums with just one service provider. Fearing they could lose their jobs once the new company comes in, the workers, engaged by the BMC under the SMPA scheme on a measly pay of 5,600 per month, have urged the court to cancel the tender. In three hearings held so far, the court has urged the BMC to absorb 30-40% of them under the new tender.

Workers’ org opposes tender for centralisation of slum sanitation
Workers’ org opposes tender for centralisation of slum sanitation

On February 16, BMC floated a tender inviting bids from companies which could, through a workforce of 7,388 personnel, undertake sanitation work in slums across the city – workers would collect garbage, sweep and clean lanes, drains, toilets and common areas in the slums, among other work. The tender will replace the Swachh Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan (SMPA), under which nearly 2,300 societies of unemployed people provide sanitation services in various slums in the city, according to the Berojgar Sanstha. Many member organisations of the federation are engaged as service providers under the scheme, and workers engaged by them are referred to as ‘volunteers’ and paid 5,600 per month.

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The tender, on the other hand, promises a minimum wage for workers, estimated at 20,000 per month. Its duration has been fixed at four years, and the estimated cost is 1,400 crore, which works out to around 350 crore per year. The deadline for submission of bids has already been extended thrice and the latest one expires on April 3.

In its writ petition submitted before the high court, the Berojgar Sanstha acknowledged the need to increase the honorarium given to volunteers under the current scheme, but contended the tender was “arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational and discriminatory.”

Aside from fears that the company which comes in may not employ those currently engaged as volunteers, the federation with nearly 50,000 members is upset they cannot bid for the tender despite having the necessary expertise and experience.

“The earnest money deposit (EMD) that bidders need to pay is nearly 14 crore, which is way outside our ability,” explained Balasaheb Ghadge, president of the Berojgar Sanstha. Conditions of the tender, he said, effectively barred them from contesting a bid.

“Workers of the organisations and societies under us have been working for cleanliness in slums since 2005,” said Ghadge, further explaining why the workers were upset. “We worked through COVID, and for petty sums. Now, when the BMC is finally agreeing to pay minimum wages to sanitation workers, we’ve been left out.”

Ghadge went on to say that if the tender went ahead, workers would never get to work for the BMC again.

The federation’s lawyer Sanjeel Kadam said the tender violated a directive of the state body dated 2002, which asked governing bodies to provide sanitation work to societies of unemployed people. “How can the municipal corporation go against a state order?” he asked.

The turmoil was visible during the pre-bid meeting on February 22. While five companies shortlisted for bidding were present, 78 organisations registered their objection and asked for cancellation of the tender including the Berojgar Sanshta and women’s self-help groups.

“Among the five shortlisted bidders present at the pre-bid meeting, the directors of three firms were from the same family,” Kadam said. He added that in the three hearings held so far on March 20, 26 and 28, the court has asked the BMC to consider absorbing 30% to 40% of the Berojgar Sanstha’s workforce into the new tender or make some alternate provisions for their employment.

While the BMC’s affidavit is now awaited on April 18, the date of the next hearing, an official from the civic body’s solid waste management department said that they would wait till the deadline to submit bid expires on Wednesday, following which a call would be taken on the further course of action.

“The high court has not asked us to scrap the tender as yet, so we are going ahead with it,” said another official. “The scale of the tender is massive, as it pertains to slum cleaning in the whole city, which is why responses to the tender are scarce,” the official explained.

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