Two weeks ago Lalbhai Mithawala, trustee of Shri Jeevdaya Jankalyan Parivar that runs a cattle pound near Ahmedabad, was shocked when his contractor for carcass removal told him that he will no longer do the job. “He said that the community leaders have instructed him to refuse to remove carcasses,” said Mithawala. “If the situation continues, we will be in great trouble. We will have to approach the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for help to dispose of dead animals.”
Till now, the panjrapole retained a contractor for disposal of dead animals.
Sources said that some people from the community of skinners come under the cover of darkness, skin the dead animal and go away.
“These people do not agree with this form of protest because it deprives many from the community of their livelihood,” said the source.
Harshadrai Solanki, director of solid waste management in the AMC, said people disposing of dead animals in the AMC are its employees and not contractors, which means not a lot of trouble for the civic body due to the Dalit protest. “But this could be a problem for small towns and municipalities,” he said.
With a force of 13,000 safai kamdaars, the AMC has a daily collection of 4,000 tonne garbage. The corporation also takes care of disposal of dead cattle. “As the corporation follows its own system of picking dead cattle, it is not dependent on skinners,” said AMC commissioner Mukesh Kumar.
Everyday, the AMC receives information of two to three dead cattle in the city. “We pick carcasses with the help of our own vehicle and a force of three or four labourers. These are then buried at the Gyaspur site,” said Solanki.
The Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation, on the other hand, does not allow residents to keep cattle. In September 2014, an order was issued barring residents to keep cows, buffaloes, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys and other four-legged animals in the capital city, except dogs and other pets. However, cows often stray onto some internal roads of the state capital.
The notification issued by the then commissioner G R Chaudhary also imposed a fine of Rs 500 per cattle on people found keeping such animals. “This notification, which was issued in order to free city from cattle, filth and traffic menace, is still in effect,” said municipal commissioner D N Modi.
A workforce of around 4,000 safai karmacharis keeps streets of Rajkot city clean. Almost all of them are Dalits and they move average 550 metric tonne of garbage everyday.
While 2,200 of them are permanent employees of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), 1,500 are contract labourers supplied to the civic body by private parties and 300 are daily-wagers.
The wages of daily-wagers and contract labourers are governed by the Minimum Wages Act. In Gujarat, the rate is Rs174 plus Rs19.30 dearness allowance for unskilled labourers in urban areas, but, sweeper unions allege contract labourers don’t get even that.
“While those on the RMC payrolls get a monthly salary of more than Rs 20,000, the daily-wagers are getting Rs 174 per day. The condition of contract labourers is worse. They get an average Rs130 from the agencies which hire them on behalf of the RMC,” claimed Jagdish Solanki, general secretary of Rajkot Municipal Burrough Sweeper’s Union.
Nilesh Parmar, environment engineer in the RMC, said the civic body pays an average Rs 7,100 per month to daily-wagers and Rs120 per day to contract sweepers. “We have adopted mechanisation in our operations. Household garbage is collected door-to-door and 36 major roads in the city are cleaned by mechanised road sweepers. The manual job is limited to nine other roads, internal roads and public places.
In fact, the door-to-door garbage collection has reduced littering and thereby lessened the workload on sweepers by around 90 per cent,” he said.
The RMC has outsourced the work of disposing of animal carcasses to two private agencies and people engaged by these agencies are Dalits, officials said. The civic body also runs a slaughterhouse where around 40 buffaloes are slaughtered every week and, officials said, Dalits do the waste disposal.
The civic body has outsourced the work of cleaning underground drainage lines. “We don’t allow men to enter manholes. Any choking is cleared by jetting and suction machines and hydraulic-operated trolleys take care of silting in manholes,” said city engineer Chirag Pandya.
According to the RMC, even if the sweepers go on a strike, the cleanliness work won’t be much affected. “Door-to-door garbage collection is through private contractors and don’t involve a lot of manual work. It takes care of a major part of solid waste management.
Even if sweepers go on a strike, this work will continue… Burying of animal carcasses can be taken care of by the use of machines,” the environment engineer stressed.
Meanwhile, Rajkot municipal commissioner Vijay Nehra trashed allegations of exploitation of sweepers. “Those sweepers who come through mitra mandals work only part time for the RMC. They could be working elsewhere too. Plus, we have a policy of allowing a safari karmachari to take voluntary retirement in case he is suffering from any disease or is physically weak and give the job to his family member. We also take daily wagers on our payrolls after they complete 900 days of work.”
Shanker Vaghela, president of RMC Safaikamdaar Association, said, “The Supreme Court guidelines specify that sweeping, disposing of heaps of garbage and cleaning drainage lines will be separate jobs. But, a sweeper here sometimes has to do all the three jobs. We have made repeated representations for regularising services of daily wagers and contract labourers. Sweepers are even ready to work for a fixed salary, but they need regular job. However, our status in society is so low that hardly anybody listens to us,” said Vaghela.
Asked if he would strike or quit job in response to the call by a few Dalit leaders, Tulsi Solanki (40), a sweeper, said he will wait and watch. “I get a monthly salary of Rs 21,000. It is barely enough to sustain a family of five members. My both daughters are studying in an English medium school and my wife contributes to the family income working as domestic help. Without work, it can be very difficult to run the family.”
Out of 1,108 sweepers, 800 are permanent employees of the Bhavnagar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the rest are daily-wagers engaged by the civic body. Around 1,050 sweep roads and streets of Bhavnagar in two shifts, and the rest take care of disposing of the garbage collected. Bhavnagar generates 225 metric tonne garbage daily.
The BMC has outsourced the work of disposing of carcasses. The civic body also runs a slaughter house where around 10 animals are killed every week.
The drainage department of the BMC employs 240 more Dalits for maintaining sewerage lines, but nobody enters manholes. “There is little chance of our sweepers resigning en masse or going on a long strike. But even if they go on strike, only 30 per cent of the city garbage will be on roads and on public places. The rest will be taken care of by door-to-door garbage collection service,” said Vikramsinh Gohil, executive engineer at solid waste management department of the civic body.
The Jamnagar Municipal Corporation has a regular strength of 1,201 sweepers and 500 daily-wagers, who work in two shifts. The city generates nearly 250 metric tonne of solid waste every day. The civic body also has a mechanised road sweeper, which keeps major roads free from dust.
It also has a dedicated team of five persons who dispose of dead animals near Theba village on the outskirts of the city. Civic officers noted that skinning of carcasses is not allowed.
The job of cleaning drainage lines has been outsourced to private contractors and the work is done with the help of machines. “If the sweepers go on strike, we shall be dependent on whatever machines we have,” said Naresh Patel, deputy engineer of the JMC.
Junagadh is closer to Una, the site of flogging of Dalits by “gau rakshaks”, than any other city having a municipal corporation.
The city generates around 120 metric tonne garbage everyday. The Junagadh Municipal Corporation (JMC) has 305 sweepers on its payrolls, five daily wagers and 87 others, hired by it on contract. They are also responsible for disposing of carcasses of dogs and pigs.
“Dalits work for of us via a contractor. They had stopped the work for a couple of days after the Una incident, but things have returned to normal,” said Atul Makwana, in-charge medical officer (sanitation) of the JMC.
Makwana also opined that if the sweepers go on a strike, cleanliness drive won’t be affected. “We have 100 mini tipper trucks to collect garbage from door-to-door. This takes care of most of our solid waste,” he added.
The Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), which has a force of 3,500 safai kamdaars, is currently dealing with issues related to demand for more wage and permanent status for safai kamdaars, who have been working on “contract” for several years.
The VMC’s trouble with safai kamdaars began when former municipal commissioner H S Patel relieved around 600 contract workers. Of the total safai kamdaars, 2,900 are permanent employees, while the rest are daily-wagers or temporarily engaged.
An officer said, “It was found that some daily-wagers did not report to work and used to sublet their jobs to other kamdaars for half their salary. Such kamdaars used to work in other areas and earn a bigger sum. There was also a discrepancy in the number of bonafide workers and the former commissioner studied their credentials before coming to a conclusion that the corporation was bearing a loss by employing surplus kamdaars. So, he took the decision to remove 600 from the list.” The workers then approached authorities demanding their jobs back. While the case is yet to be resolved, the work is going on as usual.
According to Municipal Commissioner Vinod Rao, who had held discussions with representatives of the safai kamdaars, no strike was reported in the corporation during the Dalit agitation. Rao said the VMC is looking for a solution to ensure that the matters related to wages and permanency resolve soon.
The waste management system of the VMC covers entire city and it includes door-to-door collection and waste collection drive. The daily garbage collection in the city is 1,500 tonne, but the processing plant of 300 MT/day is underutilised. It has an expandable capacity of 700 MT/day.
The Surat Municipal Corporation has 6,000 permanent employees working as safai kamdaars, while 1,200 are daily wagers (hired around 18 months ago). They work four hours in the night and get a daily allowance of Rs 150.
Jivan Sonderva, who holds the contract of dumping the carcasses in Kajod area of the city, said, “The SMC had given me a place near Kajod disposal plant where the carcasses should be buried. We get money depending on the type of animal we bury… I can skin the animal, extract bones and bury the rest. I sell the skin and bones in the market. There are over 10 people working in my firm.”
Deputy commissioner of the SMC Hemant Desai said, “Everyday, we receive 1,600 metric tonne of garbage and we dump it into the disposal site at Kajod. Our door-to-door garbage collection vehicle is also a successful attempt, apart from lifting the garbage containers placed at different locations in the city.”
Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Safai Kamdar Union president Jayenti Vaghela said, “The strength of safai kamdaars is not enough for the city of this size. We have come across cases of non-Dalits being recruited as safai kamdaars, and they are relatives of SMC officials.”
After working as safai kamdaars for three years, the SMC absorbs a daily-wager based on his/her conduct.
Daily-wags worker Jignesh Chauhan (22) said, “For the last one-and- a half year, I am working as safai kamdaar with a hope that one day I will get permanent job and earn good money. I work part time to supplement my income.”
For the last 10 years, Balwant Solanki (37) and his wife Sangita Solanki (35) are working as permanent safai kamdaars with the SMC.
Sangita said, “We earn around 50,000 per month and we get our children admitted in English medium schools so that they can get better education. We are made to work extra and even if we are five minutes late, we are marked absent.”