Subject: Demanding issuance of strict directions to all Urban Local Bodies including Town Panchaaths, Town Municipal Councils, City Municipal Councils and Municipal Corporations to provide all protective and life-saving equipments to pourakarmikas, who are risking their lives while doing sanitation work to prevent spread of COVID-19 to general public; and to take urgent steps to protect them from contracting the virus.
“23 pourakarmikas workers under BBMP have tested Corona positive on 27-06-2020” was reported by several news reports.
We had warned against this possibility in our letter dated 15-05-2020 to the Director of Directorate of Municipal Administration (DMA). In the same letter, we had described how in Pavagada taluka in Tumukuru district, pourakarmikas were being made to clean areas put under quarantine because of spread of COVID-19, without providing minimal protective equipments.
In its circulars dated 27-03-2020 and 09-05-2020, DMA had informed the officials of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) regarding provision of protective equipments and creating necessary awareness among pourakarmikas. But many officials didn’t take these required steps. Till today, pourakarmikas are not being provided face masks and other protective gears of good and usable quality (the ones which officials and elected representatives use themselves) anywhere. Even now, pourakarmikas involved in loading of waste on lorries, autos and tractors and its disposal, and UGD workers have not been provided protective equipments in adequate numbers.
No awareness is being provided to the workers on how to protect themselves. Only their temperatures are being checked through thermometers every 2-3 days. In the work areas of pourakarmikas, basic facilities like drinking water, toilets, resting rooms etc are not available. The quarterly (3 months) medical checkup that is required to be done for all pourakarmikas is not being done (For example, by ULBs in Tumkuru district).
It appears prima facie that it is because of this willful negligence of the officials that 19 pourakarmikas in Bengaluru have contracted COVID-19. Following steps are urgently required to protect all pourakarmikas across the state:-
- Workers above 50 years in age should be given leave with full pay.
- The work timings for pourakarmikas should be limited to between 6:00 am to 10:30 am to minimize their exposure to COVID-19.
- Comprehensive and quality protective equipment including face masks, head gear, hand gloves, apron, slippers and boots; and necessary protective vaccination should be provided periodically. DMA should provide regular reports on these steps, which should be made available on DMA website in the interest of transparency.
- As per the orders issued by the Urban Development Department, pourakarmikas should be provided periodic medical checkup and vaccination.
- Basic facilities like toilets, drinking water, resting rooms etc. which are most essential for women pourakarmikas, should be compulsorily made available. If any pourakarmika falls ill at the workplace, medical care should be made available immediately.
- Immediate action should be taken on incidents of atrocities and violence against women pourakarmikas at workplace.
- In some areas, the morning meal is being supplied through Indira Canteens. This food is not nutritious and is often of bad quality. Also, there is a difference between funds allotted per worker and the per plate rate of the food supplied. Hence, pourakarmikas should be provided good quality morning meal from a different eatery, and not Indira canteens.
- It is a general practice for officials and elected representatives to deploy their power and force to make pourakarmikas clean toilets within their private homes. Because of fear of reprisal, pourakarmikas are not able to come forward and voice their opposition. This practice should be stopped immediately.
Dr. K B Obalesh
Member, State Monitoring Committee under the PEMSR Act 2013
Government of Karnataka