Deccan Chronicle - - DIS COURSE - (The writer is sec­re­tary of the Mum­bai-based Kachara Va­hatuk Shramik Sangh, which fights for the rights of san­i­ta­tion and con­ser­vancy work­ers.)

Afew days ago, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi said in New Delhi: “If any­body has a right over this nation, it is those who work for the clean­li­ness of the nation. The san­i­ta­tion and con­ser­vancy work­ers in the coun­try have the first right to say Vande Mataram”.

The PM’s words may sound heroic, but does he know the truth? Leave alone the right to say Vande Mataram, the safai karam­chari (con­ser­vancy work­ers) are de­prived of even ba­sic rights that are re­quired to sur­vive. All across the coun­try, san­i­ta­tion and con­ser­vancy work­ers are forced to live a life that is ut­terly in­hu­man and dis­grace­ful to say the least.

Sam­ple this. In 2015, as many as 310 san­i­ta­tion work­ers, who were Bri­han­mum­bai Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion’s (BMC) of­fi­cial con­ser­vancy labour­ers, died due to var­i­ous work-re­lated rea­sons. The num­ber will in­crease if con­tract work­ers are added to this. Still, the ra­tio comes to the death of nearly one worker a day. How many peo­ple in this city of dreams know about this ter­ri­ble truth?

Now, sam­ple an­other fact. About 7,000 work­ers are yet to be paid min­i­mum wage ar­rears of more than Rs 84 crore by the BMC. As per rules, if min­i­mum wages are not paid, a fine of 10 times that amount is slapped and given to the labour­ers. It means that ar­rears of a whop­ping `924 crore are owed to th­ese work­ers by the BMC. A min­i­mum wage is one that keeps body and soul to­gether, and if it is not paid, you are push­ing that per­son to star­va­tion and death. But does any­one bother about it?

Across the coun­try, our san­i­ta­tion and con­ser­vancy work­ers work in most in­hu­man and ap­palling con­di­tions. Al­most all th­ese labour­ers come from the Dalit com­mu­nity, which is the most down­trod­den section of so­ci­ety. They play a ma­jor role in keep­ing our cities clean and hy­gienic by clean­ing man­holes, nalas, gut­ters, sewage lines, roads and pub­lic places. But while do­ing so, they also face a con­stant threat to their lives.

As per the Gu­jarat High Court di­rec­tives, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lo­cal civic bod­ies to en­sure the safety of th­ese con­ser­vancy work­ers. Apart from pro­vid­ing them ba­sic per­sonal hy­giene equip­ment, safety tests should be held be­fore they en­ter the man­holes. There should be paramed­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties avail­able if any un­to­ward in­ci­dent takes place. But, sadly, th­ese rules are bla­tantly vi­o­lated. Worst of all is the con­tract sys­tem, which is preva­lent all across In­dia. It has robbed work­ers of even the ba­sic rights that this thank­less work of­fers. As per the rules, any work, which is peren­nial and statu­tory can­not be given on con­tract. De­spite this, th­ese work­ers are ap­pointed on con­tract. They are de­prived of ben­e­fits like pen­sion, gra­tu­ity, bonus etc., which a per­ma­nent worker gets.

While Mr Modi is talk­ing of pro­vid­ing the first right to say Vande Mataram to san­i­ta­tion and con­ser­vancy work­ers, he should also en­sure that they are pro­vided with the right to live as a hu­man be­ing first. Their dig­nity, hu­man and labour rights needs to be pro­tected. Then they will def­i­nitely say with pride, Vande Mataram!


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