Sanitation workers demand end of ‘unfair’ contractual work for desilting drains | Mumbai news

Mumbai: In order to better the lives of nullah cleaning workers hired on a contract basis across Mumbai, especially before monsoons, the Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti (JHSS), a people’s collective working on rights of sanitation workers, demanded that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) should end the contract system for nullah cleaning every year.

Mumbai, India – Sept. 15, 2023: L to R – Avdesh, Anna, Sakubai and Yashodhara Salve during press conference organised by Jan Haq Sangharsh samit for demanding better practices for sanitation workers in Mumbai Patrakar Sangh, in Mumbai, India, on Friday, September 15, 2023. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times) {{^userSubscribed}} {{/userSubscribed}} {{^userSubscribed}} {{/userSubscribed}}

On Friday, JHSS demanded that BMC should take the complete onus of carrying out the cleaning work of gutters, drains, rivers, sewers and stormwater drains itself and completely stop the contract system. “The government should declare all the labourers for this work as seasonal workers and make them work at the right salary with safety equipment and machines,” stated JHSS members.

Yashodhara Salvi, a member, said, “I want to introduce these people as the labourers and not as sanitation workers because sanitation workers have rights, but here, people are picked up as labourers, made to work in drains for some days and then let go without any rights or health benefits.”

Salvi demanded that the civic body should end the contractual works for the desilting of drains before monsoons.

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“In the last six months, we have interviewed more than 2,000 workers across Mumbai who are brought in from various parts of the country and made to work only for a few months before monsoons and then they are let go. At least five deaths are recorded this year of the labourers while cleaning drains or sewers, FIRs are lodged in all (cases) but the workers continue to remain without compensation,” said Shubham Kothari from the JHSS.

Talking about the low payments by the contractors, a contractual labour Sakubai Kale said, “The contractors pay us 750 per day, per pair basis, wherein one man and a woman have to form a pair and then work. Most times, it is husband and wife working on site. We are made to work throughout the day in scorching heat for desilting work. A lot of these drains get sewage discharged directly which is manual scavenging. We don’t even get safety equipment during work.”

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Sakubai lost her cousin when he suffered a heat stroke while performing desilting work in the relentless heat. “My cousin was desilting nullah in Borivali, he complained of feeling tired and dizzy and so he was sent home. After reaching home, he died. The contractor refused compensation because he did not die on the site,” said Sakubai.

JHSS also demanded all gutters, drains, rivers, and stormwater drains of Mumbai should be declared as sewer lines under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation of Workers Act 2013. The sanitation work done by these workers should be added to the list of manual scavengers in the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 and under this law, all workers should be surveyed as soon as possible.

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“We have tried meeting the BMC commissioner on multiple occasions but haven’t been given an appointment. If our demands are not met, we will hold a protest,” added Shubham.

JHSS also demanded that BMC’s policy of outsourcing waste collection and cleaning to NGOs in Mumbai’s slums be banned. “By calling it a voluntary service by an NGO, the civic body is escaping from its constitutional duty of all cleaning work to be taken up by them. How can you categorise safai karmacharis (sanitation workers) as volunteers and not provide them with their rights?” questioned Shubham.

HT on June 14 reported about safai karmacharis in the city demanding that nullah (drain) desilting and cleaning storm water drains (SWD) be categorised as sewer cleaning and any form of manual cleaning by labourers be banned.

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