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Pourakarmikas' life stinks, thanks to BCC

[ WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 02, 2002 10:28:18 PM ]
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, plastics.

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 check-ups.

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 muscular diseases.

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?

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