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Monday Musings: Shouldn’t we, PMC, Swach be ashamed of this?

Sanitary workers are being forced to work in sub-human conditions in a prosperous city like Pune where the civic Solid Waste Management department has a budget of Rs 400 croreAbhay Vaidya

pune Updated: Apr 29, 2019 14:41 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
Monday Musings,sanitation,PMC
A sanitation worker works without gloves at a garbage dump yard in Balewadi, Pune, on Friday, April 19. (Milind Saurkar/HT Photo)

Last week, we brought to light the sorry state of affairs in solid waste management in Pune.

On the one hand we have the February 25 image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi washing the feet of safai karmacharis (sanitary workers) in Allahabad, and on the other we have the ground reality of these sanitary workers in Pune.

As highlighted by Hindustan Times, nothing can be more shameful for us citizens, the managers of the Swach Cooperative of sanitary workers, and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) than the fact that the 3,600 waste-pickers of Pune have been denied basic human rights by their employers.

The sanitary workers have complained that their right to basic essentials has been ignored by PMC and Swach: They have not been provided with soap to wash their hands; there’s no toilet to go to near the PMC’s garbage sorting sheds and there’s no facility for drinking water at their workplaces.

Correspondence between Swach and the PMC revealed that there has been gross delay in providing such basics as slippers, handgloves, masks, aprons, buckets, raincoats (for the monsoon) and coloured scarves.

When we asked the Swach directors Aparna Susarla and Harshad Barde the reason for this gross negligence- especially the denial of soaps, drinking water facility and toilets - the answer was these have not been delivered by the PMC. Indeed, correspondence between Swach and the PMC revealed that the delivery of a number of items was pending from the PMC.

When the matter was raised with PMC’s joint commissioner and head of solid waste management, Dnyaneshwar Molak, the reply was that some items such as pushcarts and buckets were delayed but items such as handgloves and uniforms are the responsibility of Swach.

The fact is that there are serious points of differences between the PMC and Swach with which the civic body has entered into a five year agreement for organised waste collection and disposal. However, as an employer, aren’t Swach and the PMC violating basic labour laws by not providing the sanitary workers with the basic essentials listed above?

The fact is that the Pune is one of the most prosperous cities of India with a civic budget of Rs 6,000 crore. The SWM department alone has a budget of a whopping Rs. 400 crore. Added to this is the private Adar Poonawalla Clean City Initiative with a commitment of more than Rs. 100 crore. However, such is the gross apathy that sanitary workers are being forced to work in sub-human conditions.

As documented by this newspaper before, one must certainly acknowledge that the Swach cooperative, born out of the efforts of the Kagad Kaach Patra Kastakari Panchayat established by the eminent social worker Baba Adhav has taken a number of positive steps for the welfare of wastepickers. These include better remuneration, scholarship for the children of wastepickers and a host of other welfare measures which are commendable. The cooperative has also won a host of national and international awards for its efforts, all of which are well-deserved.

However, what cannot be condoned is the denial of basic essentials to which we keep coming back again and again. Swach needs to be more assertive in its demands from the PMC. If necessary, it should make a public appeal for donations and the many small and large companies of Pune will happily donate funds from their CSR (corporate social responsibility) accounts. Let the good work not suffer for want of a few, critical steps.

abhay.vaidya@htlive.com

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 14:37 IST