BANGALORE: A pourakarmika, reeking of sweat, trudges from door
to door, collecting smelly garbage. By 7 am, she would have covered
14 houses. After the garbage is collected, she sifts through it, and
sorts the waste, dividing it into four different categories --
biodegradable which is mostly kitchen waste, medical waste including
sharp needles and bottles, recyclable waste like paper and, finally,
A gash on her right palm has refused to heal even after six
weeks. But she has not sought any medical treatment, for it is too
expensive for her. With the wounded hand, she pushes her cart
uphill. On an average working day, she lugs the cart around 45
houses. She gets Rs 900 per month for the toil.
The Municipalities Act specifies that pourakarmikas should be
paid a monthly salary of Rs 2,400 and also be provided with rubber
gloves and gumboots. They should be given free and regular health
But that is only on paper.
When BCC health officers were contacted, the only response was
that pourakarmikas got the required health facilities as dictated by
the Act. Many municipal offices in the city don't even meet the
basic necessities of pourakarmikas. They don't have wash rooms, let
alone soaps and towels. ``We haven't had a medical check-up for a
decade now and when we have an ailment, we have to get it treated by
spending our money,'' says a pourakarmika.
Bangalore produces an average of 3 tonnes of garbage every day,
which is handled by 12,000 `solid waste managers', employed by the
BCC. These wastes are a health hazard and lead to many bronchial and
An NGO, the Environment Support Group (ESG), has set out to
bring about a change in the way pourakarmikas are treated. It
started the project about two years ago, sponsored by the United
Nations Environment Programme and funded by the Indo-Norwegian
Environment Programme through the Department of Ecology, Environment
and Forests, Government of Karnataka. It has made a study on the
basic facilities, which ought to be given to probably the largest
work force and surely the most exploited.
``For efficiency, we seem to be compromising on these poor
people's rights,'' says Leo Saldahna of ESG. He opined that the
whole system of solid waste management would probably collapse in
another three-four years' time.
If the workers' condition is so poor in the capital, then one
could imagine it in other towns of the state. The government spends
crores of rupees for the welfare of these `solid waste managers'.
But where does all that money go?