It’s midnight at east Delhi’s Radhu Place Cinema. Five MCD trucks and a JCB machine enter the area followed by a Delhi Police gypsy. The JCB begins lifting the garbage and piling it on to the trucks. Employees of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Department of Environment Management Services (DEMS) and the truck drivers huddle together in the darkness, while the police vehicle remains parked on the opposite side of the road.
“We are clearing the roads in the dark because we are afraid the unions on strike may attack us. We tried doing this by day but some of them came and questioned our motives. So now we only do this at night under police protection,” said Assistant Sanitary Inspector Sisa Kumar. He is the in-charge of “refuse removal” under DEMS.
With yet another civic lockdown in the city owing to non-payment of salaries, east Delhi remains the worst hit part of the capital. Municipal employees state that, this time, they will not throw garbage on the streets but they won’t pick it up either.
The stench near the cinema in West Guru Angad Nagar hits you first before anything else. On one side of the road lies a carpet of garbage, making drivers avoid the lane.
Another road remains shut due to the piling garbage. Hotels, shops, residences and other establishments continue d throwing garbage on the road, just outside the large and empty dump for the fourth consecutive day.
Meanwhile, 70 MCD trucks and 30 more hired on contract, along with DEMS officials, have been scouting different locations since the second day of the strike to keep garbage off the streets.
On asking Sisa why he works when a majority of the city’s civic employees are on strike, he says that apart from his love for the city and health concerns, for him, this is a matter of faith in the system. “I am a government employee, this is government money, where will it go? We might get paid late but I am sure we will get our salaries,” he said.
Another sanitation worker who is on strike, but still an active part of the initiative to clear east Delhi’s streets at night, said, “When the city is flooded with garbage it affects all of us”. A father of four, his children study in private schools which have not been affected by the teachers’ strike in MCD schools.
However, he said if he does not receive his salary soon, paying fees will become a problem. “I end up with roughly Rs 17,000 cash in hand each month. It is my good fortune that the schools my children go to have accepted that I will pay the outstanding amount I owe them once I begin to receive my salary again. I do not know if all the workers are as lucky in that regard.”
The truck drivers also seem to understand the situation. “Doing work without pay is better than not working at all. This way at least the corporation owes us something. My son will go to college next year. I have to have enough money in my pocket,” said Aniruddh, a truck driver for the MCD.
Kumar and his team managed three shifts between 12 am and 8 am on February 3. Head constable Inderjeet followed them through all the trips. “I have been in the city for 33 years but have never seen it in this state. Have you heard of this happening in any other city, that safai karamcharis need police protection?” the constable jokes.
(With inputs from Kedar Nagarajan)