If there was a record for the number of times anybody has tumbled into the slushy waterways of the city, these men are strong contenders for it. Many `Malaria Workers’ of Chennai Corporation like N.Palani, who fog and spray to keep mosquitoes at bay, have slipped and fallen into the waterways several times. Mr.Palani, who has been working for 35 years, has a twisted ankle and a slur in his speech after one such fall.
Their jobs are not easy and as B.Murugan, who has 14 years of experience, says they have to even take out the carcasses from the canals and bury them. “Though it is a nauseating job, I think it is my way of serving people. I prevent the spread of disease. I only feel bad when children throw stones for fun when we fog areas in the evenings. There have been instances of our staff getting hurt,” he says.
His colleague R.Natarajan says that he signed up for this job as it was `a government job’ and pension is assured. “At times, many of us have wheezing and throat irritation. The long exposure to chemicals and the smoke has done in a lot of workers. We go home smelling of chemicals. But I need the salary to run my family.” Many workers complained that they got masks only once.
The spraying and hand-held fogging machines that they carry weigh 12 kg and 15 kg respectively. For three months from December, the Corporation has taken up fogging and spraying in the evenings as well, and these men have to work additional hours. They normally log in at 6.30 a.m. and finish work by afternoon. The mango season demands additional spraying to prevent flies.
The 54-year-old D.Sekar said the pumps that are used to spray the chemicals were inadequate to tackle the mosquito menace. “If there are any repairs like replacing of worn out washers we ourselves have to do it. The raincoats that were given to us were damaged after just one use. It would be nice if we got more pumps at regular intervals and a facility to service them,” he said. Many old timers work after consuming alcohol. They say that they cannot otherwise work. Most of them fall sick at least once a month and go to the Corporation dispensary for treatment.