Lakshmi, a pourakarmika who puts in nearly 12 hours of work a day, has not received her wages for three months. She leaves her one-room house in Swatantrapalya as early as 5 a.m. to sweep the roads and collect waste from residences.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) depends on nearly 18,000 pourakarmikas to keep the city clean. With elections round the corner, many of these pourakarmikas are now questioning the promises made by political parties and their failure to keep thee promises.
It was only in June 2017 when the workforce went on a strike that the State government finally agreed to end the ‘contractor raj’ and put them directly on the rolls of the BBMP.
However, not all pourakarmikas were enrolled under the direct payment system.
“It was only after a struggle that the minimum wages of pourakarmikas were enhanced to ₹14,060 a month, plus dearness allowance. Though the State government has introduced biometric system and direct payment of wages, the drivers of autorickshaws and compactors are still not covered and are thus still under the mercy of the garbage contractors,” said Clifton D’Rozario from the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sanghatana.
He pointed out that the pourakarmikas belong to Dalit communities and 90% are women. The parties, he said, had completely betrayed their demands.
In the manifestos
The Congress manifesto mentions prioritising pourakarmikas’ welfare and working conditions, while the BJP promises housing for pourkarmikas in every urban centre and regular health check-ups for all of them. The Janata Dal (S) is yet to release its manifesto. The women, however, point out that their problems require more than just lip service.
“None of the political parties has fulfilled the assurances made to us earlier. Even something as basic as safety equipment, including rubber gloves, boots and masks, have not been provided to us, though it is mandated by the law. The parties only seem to be protecting the interests of garbage contractors,” said Sarojamma, a pourakarmika.