In a reply sought by Councillor Satinder Singh from the Municipal Corporation, authorities revealed that out of nearly 1,300 safai karmacharis, more than 200 workers have died since 2009.
From cleaning eery road, footpath and nullah to collecting garbage and ferrying trucks to the dumping grounds where they unload the trash, safai karmacharis are involved in every stage of cleaning activity in the city.
However, there is an unusually high death rate among such workers, mainly due to lack of adequate protective gear.
After Chandigarh Newsline reported on frequent deaths among such workers, the Councillor had sought details of the number of safai karmacharis, the healthcare facilities provided to them and number of workers who died.
He said the high death rate was a serious issue and that a study should be conducted to ascertain the cause of the deaths and come up with solutions to curb the problem. “The MC replied that no such study has been conducted. I will take up the matter in the upcoming House meeting,” he said.
In the reply, the MC said that in 2009, there were around 1,300 regular karmacharis employed with the civic body and around 200 daily wage workers. There are currently 1,043 regular workers and since 2009, 199 regular workers and nine daily wagers have died.
Last year, the workers had staged several protests to demand jobs on compassionate grounds to the family members of the deceased. But their pleas have gone unanswered.
“Most of the workers die of heart-related problems, asthma or TB. Every few days, we hear about the death of a worker, mostly during duty hours. Most of them die at a young age, because of occupational hazards involved in cleaning garbage without masks, gloves and gum boots. We have been demanding jobs for the kin of deceased workers and the UT Administration has repeatedly promised us that they will look into the matter, but no action has been taken,” said Krishan Kumar, former president of safai karmachari union.
Mahenderi, a worker whose husband and son worked as safai karmacharis and died in their twenties due to heart-related problems, said, “Nobody can ever understand how the death of loved ones has destroyed our family. I got a job on compassionate grounds after my husband’s death, but how can I feed a large family on my own? My daughter-in-law should have been given a job after her husband’s death.”
Even as the workers allege that they are not given uniforms or protective gear, the MC, in its reply, claimed that they are given gloves, masks, gum boots and so on.
The MC replied that hepatitis injections are given to the workers and health camps are organised. Soap, jaggery and oil are also provided to the workers, said the reply.
Mayor Poonam Sharma said after the recent approval of a policy in favour of firemen, her next step would be to bring in a similar policy in the sanitation department.
“The current policy says only five per cent of posts can be given on compassionate grounds. But I will take up the matter with the Adviser and we will urge him to approve an insurance scheme for sanitation workers. I have also proposed training for the workers from a national institute and filling up of all vacant posts,” she said.
In the upcoming MC House meet, the matter of contracts for 345 safai karmacharis will be raised.