Crouching over a pile of plastic bottles and wrappers, Sanyasamma Arjilli is oblivious to the speeding traffic and the passers-by. Shepicks up the bottles and dumps them in the nearby dustbin or puts them into a black plastic bag she carries around.
Sanyasamma is a contract sanitation workers at the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC). She works on the streets throughout the day, wearing her orange reflective jacket, ensuring that the roads are swept clean and kept litter-free.
“There is an unexplainable satisfaction in seeing the clean roads,” she says adding that she takes pride in what she does.
The 49-year-old’s day begins at break of dawn. After her chores at home are done, she reports for work at six in the morning.She sweeps the roads and cleans the footpaths and the dividers. She is designated half a kilometer stretch of road that is her responsibility to keep clean.
“The work load increases during festivities or if there is an event. On these days there is hardly any time to rest as we walk ceaselessly in our designated area to pick up litter,” Sanyasamma says. She adds that cleaning areas near food carts is a herculean task as despite the availability of dustbins people don’t use them.
It is a physically challenging work that leaves Sanyasamma with debilitating aches and pains. But she takes it in her stride. “I have grown used to it and I can’t afford to complain as I have needs to meet,” says Sanyasamma who has three children. She has three breaks until seven in the evening when she sets her broom down.
Apart from the inherent danger from the fast-moving vehicles, the sanitation workers are exposed to pollution and harsh weather constantly. “It gets difficult during peak summers and the monsoons. During summers I carry a huge water bottle to keep myself hydrated,” she says.
Sanyasamma who has been living here for over 40 years observes drastic changes in the city, more so in the last decade or so. “After the destruction caused by Cyclone Hudhud, there has been a massive change . More emphasise is being laid on keeping public areas clean. There are more dustbins at regular intervals to enable and promote responsible disposal of garbage,” she says.
Rain or shine, one can see Sanyasamma and her fellow workers keeping at it. Their efforts have helped the city being ranked among India’s cleanest cities. Appreciating their contribution, last year, GVMC Commissioner M Hari Narayanan felicitated 40 sanitary staff when Visakhapatnam was ranked third in the country in ‘Swachh Survekshan- 2017’.
“A word of appreciation from the public goes a long way,” says Sanyasamma. Sadly there are still those who are rude and argumentative when they are requested by the sanitation workers not to litter. “I used to get angry and argued with people who littered. Over the years, I have realised that it is only through awareness that this habit can change.”