Patna: As the first virtual rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place on Wednesday ahead of the upcoming Bihar Assembly polls, thousands of Patna Municipal Corporation's (PMC) fourth-grade and daily-wage sanitation workers staged protests in the heart of Patna. The workers went on indefinite strike since Wednesday morning against the government’s decision to stop availing their services.
The PMC’s daily-wage sanitation workers, also known as safai karamcharis, are livid because they say the National Democratic Alliance government, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has cheated them by not regularising their services despite giving assurances about the same in February this year.
Nearly 8,000 daily-wage sanitation workers of the Corporation staged a protest in front of the office in Patna and shouted slogans against the government’s decision to remove them instead of regularising their jobs. They also locked the main gate of six divisional offices of the Corporation to lodge their protest.
In solidarity with the striking daily-wage sanitation workers, permanent fourth-grade employees and temporary employees of the municipality have also extended their support.
“We are on indefinite strike to protest against the government’s U-turn on its own assurances to us early this year. It is really unbelievable that government is hell bent on hiring some private agency to outsource our work in place of fulfilling the promises to regularise our services,” said Naresh Kumar, a young daily-wage sanitation worker who took part in the protests.
Naresh’s views were echoed by Shanti Devi, a middle-aged, daily-wage sanitation worker. “We have been cleaning filth and garbage and keeping the city clean but the government neglects us and ignores our demands to regularise us,” she said.
Striking daily-wage sanitation workers along with the permanent fourth-grade employees of Corporation have decided to take out marches at different places and have threatened to throw garbage on roads near markets and residential localities if their demands are not met.
The agitating workers said that hundreds of them have been working since the last 10-12 years on a daily-wage basis in the hope that the government will regularise their jobs. “The government is set to deprive us of our livelihood with the decision to remove us,” said a sanitation worker.
Chandraprakash Singh, president of Sanyukt Karamchari Samanvay Samiti said the sanitation workers have been forced by the government to go on the strike and will continue till their demands are fulfilled. “We are fighting for our rights. This time we will not end the strike on mere assurances. The government is anti-worker,” he said.
Ramyatan Prasad, convenor of the Samiti, said the government’s Urban Development Department has not only refused to implement its assurances to daily-wage sanitation workers, but is also regularly issuing threats to remove them.
The sanitation workers say they are the real players behind the Centre’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan but are mostly left in the lurch.
Their strike is likely to hit cleaning works under the Corporation with the city streets already showing signs of scattered dirt, filth and dumped garbage everywhere. With the COVID-19 pandemic posing a real challenge to sanitation and hygiene, their strike is expected to make the situation difficult and put pressure on the government.
Moreover, according to the latest report of Swachh Survekshan 2020, Patna has been categorised as the dirtiest city with over one million population.
The Left parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have extended their support to the protesting safai karamcharis and demanded that the government should regularise them.
"Sanitation workers belong to the poorest of the poor and bottom layer of the society. The government’s action to remove them from daily-wage work will push them to starvation-like situation. They deserve care and attention, and their old demand to regularise them should be considered by the government," CPI (M) leader Arun Kumar Mishra said.
According to Mishra, cleaning of streets and clearing of garbage are mainly done by daily-wage sanitation workers in Patna.
On February 8, daily-wage sanitation workers of the Corporation had ended their week-long strike on the assurances of the officials that they would not be removed and their services would be regularised. They were protesting as the Urban Development Department had earlier issued a notice ordering their removal from February 1 and not to engage them for the Corporation’s daily-wage work of cleaning and sweeping