It is tedious to keep pace with 41-year-old Ashok Chaudhary as he takes quick strides between Vishwavidyalaya metro station and the canteen at Delhi University’s Department of Social Work. Such brisk walks are part of his daily routine for supervising his staff when they are following their “beat chart for the day” to check for mosquitoes breeding in different localities.
Mr. Chaudhary is the general secretary of the Anti-malaria Karamchari sangh which has several of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s domestic breeding checkers as its members. Domestic breeding checkers (DBCs) are daily wage municipal staffers who visit 60 to 70 houses per day to check if coolers, overhead tanks and flower pots have stagnant water that could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying the dengue or malaria virus. If larvae is detected, a notice is given to the resident directing them to get rid of the stagnant water. However, if the problem persists on a second visit, a challan is issued to the resident.
“We don’t allow it to grow beyond the larvae stage,” says Janchal Parmal, who has worked as a DBC in the Civil Lines zone for the past eight years. “If we find stagnant water with larvae, we sprinkle temephos granules, petrol or kerosene,” she adds. The DBCs also hand out informative pamphlets titled “Save yourself from dengue, malaria and chikungunya” in both Hindi and English for the benefit of residents in every house they visit.
Yet, despite what Mr. Chaudhary and Ms. Parmal perceive as diligent work that has spanned 17 years, the rise in the number of dangue cases in the city this year has been attributed to the way they perform their jobs. Recent media reports had even suggested that the DBC workers were on strike due to dissatisfaction over non-payment of wages. Mr. Chaudhary, however, sets the record straight: “No member of the Anti-Malaria Karamchari Sangh or the DBC Sangh will go on strike.” This is despite wages not being paid to them since July this year.
At present, the 3,250 DBC workers in the three Municipal Corporations earn monthly wages of Rs.7,356 each as opposed to the Rs.2,000 they earned when they were first hired in 1996. The struggle for recognition and regularisations of their positions as civic body staffers has, however, continued for several years. Mr. Chaudhary is armed with documents which he has obtained by filing queries under the Right to Information Act that shows that regularisation of DBC workers is not completely off the table.
“I learnt the method to file RTI queries from newspapers,” he says, as he pulls out various documents pertaining to meetings held by the Public Health Committee, the MCD Standing Committee and the House and meetings initiated by the then Mayors. “It was felt that to regularise all DBC workers in one go would cost the civic body more than Rs. 61 crore. Instead, they decided to do it in phases and a proposal to regularise 1,360 workers was discussed.”
However, several deliberations and MCD’s trifurcation later, the matter stands unresolved and union members continue to meet senior leaders in the now trifurcated MCD to support their cause. Until then, Mr. Chaudhary says, the DBCs will continue with their work which they believe is not seasonal.
“The largest number of dengue cases have been reported in months outside of the April-November bracket which shows that it’s not a seasonal disease,” he says. “However, we are also engaged as surveyors to check if residents have paid house tax and collect building conversion charges as well.” All this for just Rs. 7,356 a month.