With the BJP looking to consolidate non-Jat votes in Haryana ahead of the crucial Adampur bypoll and coming panchayat polls, a strike by safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) has major ramifications for the ruling party’s plans and strategies as most sweepers are Dalits.
Many ruling party leaders believe that the demands of sanitation workers and other government employees will always exist no matter how many are fulfilled. The ruling party, however, said the government was willing to engage with the protesters.
For most of the past week, the sanitation workers have been on strike, demanding the regularisation of the services of almost 15,000 of them who have been working for municipal bodies for the past several years. Heaps of garbage have piled up in several towns and cities in the state as the strike coincided with the Diwali festival.
According to Haryana Nagarpalika Karmachari Sangh president Naresh Kumar Shastri, the state has almost 25,000 safai karamcharis but only 10,000 of them are regular employees of the urban local bodies department. The protesters have received support from a few thousand other employees of municipal bodies who have a separate set of demands.
Shastri said that in rural areas there were almost 11,000 safai karamcharis who are currently not on strike but “have similar demand for regularisation of their services”. He added, “We have their moral support.”
The union leader said political leaders claim to work for Dalit upliftment but treat them like slaves. “This has caused resentment among them,” Shastri said. “Our services are not being regularised and all benefits are not being extended to us.”
The safai karamcharis last went on strike for 16 days in 2018 and before that, they had gone on a long strike in 1996 in protest against the Bansi Lal government.
“After the 2018 strike, the safai karamcharis were promised job regularisation but that process has not been completed yet. Now, the government is planning to bring the contractual safai karamcharis under the purview of the Haryana Kaushal Rozgar Nigam. But the employees are opposing this move because they won’t be regularised after coming under the ambit of this body. They won’t get the salary on the concept of equal work-equal pay. They will not have the right to move courts to seek regularisation,” Shastri said.
Explaining the protesters’ demands, union leader Subhash Lamba said the government had not recruited permanent sanitation workers for more than two decades. “I know a few safai karamcharis in Faridabad who have been working for the civic body for the past 28 years but their services have not been regularised yet,” added Lamba, who is the president of the Sarv Karamchari Sangh, an umbrella body of more than 100 unions in Haryana.
Putting forward the government’s point of view, Haryana Chief Secretary Sanjeev Kaushal recently said, “From time to time, the government has accepted the legitimate demands of the employees. Therefore, safai karamcharis working in the civic bodies and fire brigade employees should end their strike and discharge their duties with full devotion. As ensuring the welfare of every employee is the top-most priority of the state government, the Essential Services Management Act will not be enforced as of now.”
The bureaucrat claimed that some employees had returned to work and, in some districts, the strike had been called off completely.
The Manohar Lal Khattar-led government has been trying to reach out to Dalits and on October 7 organised a state-level programme at Gohana (Sonipat) to celebrate the birth anniversary of Maharishi Valmiki, a Dalit icon. Khattar too participated in the event.
Asked about the strike, state BJP chief spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said, “This government has done a lot more than the previous governments for the government employees. The salaries of safai karamcharis have been increased. As per their demand, their services have been brought out from the purview of the contractor system. The government is ready to consider their demands sympathetically.”