For the past week, Mangalamma, a contract pourakarmika who works on Magadi Road, has been reporting to work with a raging fever. She has contracted fever after being forced to segregate the mixed waste that the residents have been throwing out.
“The supervisor makes us segregate the waste… we have no gloves or even masks. Garbage often includes used sanitary pads and nappy pads, which we have to touch with our bare hands. We open one plastic cover and there are several inside,” she lamented while speaking about the deplorable work conditions.
The 38-year-old pourakarmika is not alone… several thousand pourakarmikas are handling garbage with their bare hands and segregating the mixed waste.
“Many pourakarmikas have fallen ill and several have even quit, refusing to segregate the waste,” she said. Penchillamma, a pourakarmika from Kallahalli near Ulsoor, is one of the few who refused to segregate the waste. “I asked all the other pourakarmikas working with me to not be pressured and segregate the waste. Why should we do it when we are not given safety gear, such as gloves, masks and gumboots?” she said.
Nirmala M., general secretary of BBMP Contract Pourakarmikas Union, said the civic body had not provided any infrastructure to the pourakarmikas to collect and transport segregated waste to collection points. “The skin on their palms is getting infected and nails are turning black. Since they are not provided soaps, the pourakarmikas are not even able to have food,” she said. The BBMP is also now trying to train the pourakarmikas in understanding the process of segregation of waste at source. BBMP’s Special Commissioner (Solid Waste Management) Subodh Yadav conceded that the job is difficult. “The new garbage tenders will take care of collection and transportation of segregated waste. Citizens have to segregate waste at source. We are involving pourakarmikas to get the message across to the citizens,” he said and added that the new tenders will be pourakarmika friendly.
With citizens yet to segregate waste at source, pourakarmikas are often forced to do the needful… sometimes with bare hands. This exposes them to several health risks. Waste management experts warn that the situation may spiral out of control if citizens do not take responsibility of segregating waste at source.