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These children lead a ragged life

By Payal Thimaiah

BANGALORE: M. Raju is a ragpicker with the BCC who survives with his large family in abysmal conditions in a slum at Austin Town. Sickness, malnutrition, illiteracy are but a part of his daily living. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Environment Support Group has stepped in to save this man and many others like him.

Garbage can be segregated into biodegradable, recyclable, reusable, hazardous and sanitary wastes. But ragpickers and sweepers, comprising mainly children, aren't trained to do so. They are exposed to toxic waste every day and thus become disease-prone,'' says Leo Saldanha of the group.

``Waste management is hazardous and requires training of segregation of wastes. These children aren't and actually cannot be put into the category of rag-picking. Most of them are forced into this because of financial problems.''

Sweepers suffer from muscular diseases and back pains because they have to bend to clean the roads for long hours. It can be avoided if they are provided with long brooms.

``Apart from handling waste and working under smelly conditions, they are not provided with appropriate equipment. The trollies provided are often laden with garbage and very difficult to push. Pushing them can cause muscular- skeletal diseases. Authorities expect them to work without the right equipment and then accuse them of inefficiency and being lazy,'' said Saldanha. Apart from this, they get half the amount of salary actually sanctioned to them; the other half being siphoned off by their contractors.

``They are deprived of medical help they require. Doctors in-charge of conducting free and regular checkups have no prior records or any sort of information about their health. All the doctors who have volunteered to help don't take up the initiative because they receive no support from higher authorities,'' complained Ranjini Thomas, an NGO member. ``They work with bare hands and chappals. Most of their health problems are because of their strenuous work schedule.''

Many are alcoholics, but a survey conducted by an NGO maintained alcoholism wasn't prevalent among them. ``This is probably just a stigma attached to them. The BCC prefers to opt for the illiterate. Because if they have passed SSLC, they move to the post of a `dapedar' for which they have to be paid higher wages,'' she added.

To make these workers aware of savings schemes, the NGO organises lectures on banking facilities, upgrading and educating them. It has sent the corporation a proposal last November, but hasn't been authorised even till date,'' said Saldanha.

As for Raju, he hopes this programme will help reduce a few of his numerous problems.

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