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They are forced to clear waste, drains with their bare hands

M.T. Shiva Kumar
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Pourakarmikas’ demand for safety gear has not been fulfilled

Difficult job:According to Ranga, a pourakarmika, the practice of sprinkling bleaching powder and chemicals into drains and at garbage dump yards, without any gloves or safety gear, has left their hands scarred by burns.
Difficult job:According to Ranga, a pourakarmika, the practice of sprinkling bleaching powder and chemicals into drains and at garbage dump yards, without any gloves or safety gear, has left their hands scarred by burns.

Pourakarmikas employed by the Mandya City Municipal Council (CMC) have been using their bare hands to clear garbage from drains for the last two years. The reason? They have not been provided the necessary safety gear.

‘Election first’

The CMC has 90 pourakarmikas, apart from 181 hired on contract, working in 35 wards of the city. According to CMC officials, safety gear such as masks, aprons, gumboots, gloves and uniforms have not been provided to the pourakarmikas since the last two years. The gear would be issued only after the election to the post of CMC president was held, an official told The Hindu here on Thursday.

The pourakarmikas claim that they have been demanded safety gear and equipment for the last two years. However, none of the officials have taken steps to address their woes.

“The only equipment we got are brooms, plastic drums and pushcarts,” the pourakarmikas said.

They are forced to use their bare hands to remove garbage, animal carcasses and sometimes even human waste from the pavements. The practice of sprinkling bleaching powder and chemicals into drains and at garbage dump yards, without any gloves or safety gear, has left their hands scarred by burns. They have also been cut while removing pieces of glass from the city’s gutters, according to Ranga, a pourakarmika.

Echoing Ranga’s statements, another pourkarmika who did not want to be named, described the garbage as “poison”.

The majority of the pourakarmikas, including those who are working on contract, suffer from skin diseases, high cholesterol, diabetes, low or high blood pressure, heart-related illnesses and other health issues, said an officer at the CMC.

CMC Commissioner M. Dase Gowda admitted that the pourakarmikas were clearing garbage in this manner owing to lack of safety gear. “We will provide the equipment to regular employees shortly,” he told The Hindu here on Thursday. Mr. Gowda, however, said that the contractor was responsible for providing safety gear to pourakarmikas hired on contract.

The CMC would urge contractors to do so, he promised.

Plan to protest

Meanwhile, the frustrated pourakarmikas are contemplating stopping garbage collection from the second week of this month unless they receive the necessary equipment.

Warning

“We are discussing the issue with social activists and labour unions regarding a protest. We plan to spill garbage and dump animal carcasses outside the residence of the CMC Commissioner and office if our demands are not met,” a pourakarmika said.

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