Harshavardhan P N, the Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF), Karnataka Forest Department, recently made a statement that has drawn flak from across sections. Bangalore Mirror on July 11, 2019 had carried an article titled ‘Pourakarmikas Will Be Forced to Eat Where it Stinks, So That They Do a Better Clean-up Job’, quoting Harshavardhan. He was speaking about the 20 pourakarmikas working every day to keep the Vengayyana Kere (Vengayyana Lake) and its premises clean.
The article quoted him as saying, "Now, we’ve decided to sensitise the pourakarmikas about the bad odour emanating from the garbage and make them aware of health hazards. We’ve made arrangements for them to have lunch near the main entrance so that they feel the impact of the dirty smell. Our idea is to make the pourakarmikas realise their responsibility to keep the surroundings clean and clear the garbage.”
NewsClick had earlier reported that the pourakarmikas employed under the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) do not get paid on time and the employees constantly are protesting against the BBMP. They allege that the BBMP has failed in creating a working environment in which one need not compromise on dignity and has an access to basic facilities.
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Recognising these remarks by the ACF as casteist, the BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha, affiliated to the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), staged a protest outside the Vengayyana Kere premises and demanded an unconditional apology from the ACF. Addressing the protest, Nirmala M, the president of the union said, "Not only do the pourakarmikas work in inhuman conditions in the city, where they are not provided with safety equipment, toilet facilities or drinking water facilities, they are mistreated like this as well."
According to the press note circulated by the BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha, the workers who had gathered at the spot urged that action be initiated against the ACF for the statement made by him. The ACF who came to the spot asserted that he was misquoted in the tabloids, and apologised to the workers for the humiliation caused to them due to the article.
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The reporter, who was also present at protest site, claimed that he had not misreported any facts. Thereafter, the ACF assured that he will issue a clarification in writing with regard to the article and will write to the Bangalore Mirror seeking clarification. He also assured that a sensitisation and awareness programme will be undertaken by him for the Forest Department officials to ensure that they are treated with respect. He will also ensure that the pourakarmikas can use the toilet and drinking water facilities available on the premises of the Vengayyana Kere.
The press note also said that the BBMP officials who also addressed the workers at the protest stated that toilet and drinking water facilities, along with a clean place to sit and eat will be provided on the premises of the lake.
However, the questions still remains: why were the pourakarmikas denied access to the toilet and drinking water facilities in the first place? Why were they, till date, eating next to the garbage dump? Even if we believe the ACF was misquoted, ACF and BBMP will have to answer these questions.
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