Pune is one of the most modern cities in India, also called ‘Oxford of the East’. In this city, was exposed how human values were ignored by its municipal council, how those who work for a better living conditions for others were sacrificing their own lives.
“In just two years 227 Pune conservancy staff died cleaning city’s filth.” This was a shocking story in the Indian Express of Pune on October 12th. A conservancy staffer’s duty is to clean the city’s garbage, toilets and sewage they also dispose unclaimed dead bodies. The story, says that 40 have died in the first six month of 2007-08 itself; 107 died in the previous year and 80 in 2005-06. Majority of cases have been registered as merely “sickness” in the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) records. The most shocking part is the average age of those who lost their lives, 45. Of the 107 who died in 2006-07, 70 were under the age of 50 and of those, 32 were under 40. The deaths have also been attributed to cancer, tuberculosis jaundice and heart diseases. The deaths include both men and women. PMC employs over 6000 such staff but the number of deaths can not be just ignored seeing the early age deaths and the reasons.
‘Kachra Kondi’ (Garbage Jam) is a 55 minute documentary made by Pune based theatre director Atul Pethe. The film is produced by PMC worker’s union. The movies shoes that although the PMC officials claim that workers are provided with gumboots, gloves and rain suits etc, workers hardly get any of these. This is also common to see a conservancy staff working bare handed inside a gutter. There are also workers who are hired by contractors. No records are available for them but one can imagine what they must be getting from their employers. While cleaning humane waste, working inside gutters, the workers are exposed to methane gas, and harmful viruses.
The family members of those PMC workers who died are no struggling for compensation. It shatters the family when a key bread earner dies at the age of 30 to 45.
The Life Insurance Corporation of India, which was earlier offering a group insurance of Rs, 30000 to the class IV employees recently closed the scheme saying that this was nit viable to them due to the increased number of deaths. Now the only compensation possible to the family members of dead workers is a meager amount Rs. 15,000 under the “Kamgar Kalyan Yojna”. Now the PMC is talking to SBI to provide an insurance coverage of Rs. 50,000 to its workers. So, not even a satisfactory compensation package is available.
The Employee Care Factor:
The government jobs in India are most sought after ones on the society for it provides job security and retirement benefits. Also, there is not much accountability fixed with many of the jobs, neither there are targets unlike the private sector. Often these reasons are cited to explain the in efficient and slow functioning of government departments. But does the government departments and civic bodies like PMC, really care for the lives of their people? Not only in the conservancy staff, proper uniform, which is according to one’s working conditions, is hardly seen in any of the government departments. Tools and equipments are ignored upon. Medical checkups are not regular or are there only in papers.
There is another issue of the civic body employees. In case of sub-governmental agencies like municipalities and panchayati raj institutions, employee benefits do not match with that in the government. In states like Chhattisgarh, Shiksha-karmis (teachers employed by local governing bodies) have long been demanding equal treatment for equal responsibilities. It is funny on part of the governments to shrug such issues by disowning these teachers, saying that they are not employed by the government. So, for these employees, there is no fifth or sixth pay commission.
Awareness is another front. Not only in case of conservancy staff but even in small scale industries one hardly sees safety precautions being taken or proper tools and safety equipment used.
The Un-Organized Sector:
There are around 5000 people working as conservancy staff in Pune who are employed by small private contractors. These workers do not have a union of themselves. As the jobs for these contractors are not stable, workers can not fight for their rights, or one does not know whether they are aware of their rights! While the unions for PMC employees fight for the rights of their members, who will carry the voices of the contract conservancy workers.
The Role of the Society:
The urban society is also responsible for these kinds of problems. If citizens keep their surroundings clean and do not let others loiter around, this will be a good contribution, unfortunately we as citizens forget that we have other duties after paying taxes. No one cares about the people who clean the places we live in.
About Other Cities:
Pune is not alone; the situation of conservancy staff in other cities can not be different. And hence this is time when there is a national attention to this problem. There are reports that the central government has taken note of the news in Pune and is planning some action over it.
What can be done? Modernization of Sewage Systems:
Indian cities still depend on age old drainage systems. Some cities even do not even have a citywide underground sewage system, Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh is one example. The drainage system should be modern and should meet international standards.
Safety and Social Security for Workers:
Workers should be provided with modern safety tools and equipment without a compromise on cost. There shall be government intervention if public sector insurance agencies are denying a security cover to the conservancy workers. Regular health checkups and free medical facilities should be provided.