The lane outside 53-year-old Kaushalya’s house in east Delhi’s Geeta Colony is strewn with garbage — polythene, rotting vegetables and fruits and medical waste. As flies swarm above the heaps, a frustrated Kaushalya asks a neighbour, “Kab hogi safai? Bimaari se mar jaayenge aise toh.”
It’s been 26 days since the two zones of east Delhi — Shahdara south and Shahdara north — have been cleaned. The roads are dirty, the sewers full. Sanitation workers of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) are on strike, again. Since 2015, this is their ninth protest.
“This is our longest strike… we began on September 12. Till EDMC commissioner and the Delhi government don’t agree to fulfill our demands, we will not go back to work,” said Sanjay Gehlot, president of MCD Swachhata Karamchari Union.
On Saturday, an EDMC official said, “71 safai karamcharis have been suspended for obstructing sanitation work in EDMC — 40 from Shahdara South, and 31 from Shahdara North.”
Gehlot added that for many years now, the demands of EDMC’s sanitation workers have been consistent — to make temporary workers permanent, pay arrears, monthly dispatch of salaries without delays, timely pension for those who have retired from service, and proper medical assistance.
Premchand (43), who has been cleaning sewers since 2000, said, “I earn Rs 38,000 a month, but it’s never on time… I haven’t been paid for three months now. I have five mouths to feed.”
His colleagues Vinod (49) and Rajesh (44) reiterated the point: “Once a year, EDMC gets our medical check-up done… it’s not enough. We are not given any safety equipment when we enter the sewer and are injured often, inhale poisonous gases, and have consistent cough and chest pains. Funds need to be allocated for this.”
It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at Gehlot’s office, located inside a sulabh shauchalaya complex in Geeta Colony. “We are going to protest at Jantar Mantar on Monday… every year, we are promised that when the funds come in, we will be given our arrears and pensions. Enough is enough,” said Gehlot, adding that “had the recommendations of the 4th Delhi Finance Commission been implemented in 2012, matters wouldn’t have reached here.”
Apart from permanent staff, temporary staff too will participate in the protest. “My father retired as an EDMC sanitation worker and died in 2014, my mother in 2017… both dedicated years to this service, but never got pension. I am a post-graduate, but I’m doing the same job as my father, and I earn Rs 12,000… I have eight siblings to support. How is this enough?” said Pramod Mehrolia (29).
A source said that “by Tuesday, the matter might get sorted with the EDMC accepting the demands after sensing the urgency… east Delhi is a mess right now with garbage everywhere. People are angry. EDMC has to resolve this soon.”
From Seelampur, Welcome and Shahdara to Laxmi Nagar, Vivek Vihar and Jhilmil Colony, the garbage heaps are only becoming bigger.