Forgotten heroes of battle against COVID-19

Garbage collectors at work in the city.

Garbage collectors at work in the city.  

Left to their fate by GHMC, garbage collectors work against all odds

Paslawath Satyam’s day begins at 5 a.m. daily. He downs a cup of steaming ‘chai’ at the roadside tea shop, before taking out his SAT (Swachh Auto Tipper) vehicle, a sanitised nomenclature for a mini-garbage truck.

Since then, he and his wife Kamala make rounds of the 300 buildings allotted to him at Abhyudaya Nagar Colony, collect garbage, segregate, take out the plastic that they can resell, and dump the rest at the designated transfer station. By the time they are finished, the clock strikes noon, till when they would not have eaten even a morsel.

“In fact, nowadays, we have to forgo our morning tea, as the tea stalls are often closed. We do not eat anything while on duty, and have lunch only after we reach home and wash ourselves thoroughly,” says Satyam. This cardinal rule of personal hygiene alone is what seems to be protecting 3,000 garbage collectors in city.

“We too get scared listening to the news about coronavirus outbreak. Who wouldn’t? But we cannot sit at home because if we do, garbage will pile up in all streets, and RWAs will complain endlessly,” says G. Chinna Rangaswamy, another garbage collector in the Cantonment area who covers Sripuri Colony of Kakaguda near Karkhana.

“Despite exercising extreme caution to remain safe while collecting garbage, we nevertheless have this feeling that death might strike us any day,” he says. After the lockdown, thankfully, they have stopped rummaging through the trash for plastic, as there wouldn’t be any buyer.

GHMC, which has provided hazmat suits to its disaster response forces while spraying disinfectant, and supplied the sanitation staff with masks and gloves, has left the garbage collectors to their fate. With no protective gear, handkerchiefs double up as masks, and plastic sheets are improvised as shoes. While not employed with GHMC, all the SAT drivers-cum-owners are under the control of the corporation’s sanitation wing, by virtue of being at the primary level of garbage collection.

“I take ₹70 per month from each household. If I have to climb upstairs to collect, it will be ₹100. Last time when we asked the RWAs to hike the price, they complained to GHMC, and we were dissuaded by the sanitation officials,” Satyam says. The price per household too is not standardised across the city and varies based on the locality. “We must work against all odds, because that’s our livelihood. We are not salaried employees to work from home,” he says.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 6:46:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/forgotten-heroes-of-battle-against-covid-19/article31175399.ece

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