Prompted by the “inordinate delay” in the state government fulfilling its promises, rural sanitation workers in Haryana have decided to gherao the residence of Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Singh Chautala in Sirsa for two days – July 17 and 18 – in protest. The workers, overburdened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have been demanding safety gear, insurance coverage, and risk allowance for the rural workforce, among others.
“We will gherao the Sirsa residence of Deputy CM Chautala for two days from tomorrow. Rural sanitation workers from around 20 districts are arriving for the same,” Vinod Kumar, general secretary, Haryana Rural Sanitation Workers Union (RSWU), told Newsclick on Friday.
The protest call could not have come at a worse time for the BJP-JJP coalition government in the state, which is already facing the farmers' ire for not opposing the contentious Farm Laws. The demonstration in Sirsa is expected to see the participation of between 4,000 and 5,000 rural sanitation workers from across Haryana, Newsclick has learnt. The total strength of the rural sanitation workforce in the state is close to 11,000.
With a resurgence in COVID-19 cases since March this year and with the infection spreading to rural areas as well, the work done by sanitation workers – majority belonging to the Valmiki community in Haryana – became more essential that ever before. This however, was accompanied with by risk of these workers contracting COVID-19 themselves, and then potentially spreading it to their family members as well.
Earlier last month in June, a state-wide protest was held under the guidance of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)–affiliated union to press for the demand charter that included, among others, safety gear, insurance coverage, and risk allowance for the rural workforce. Subsequently, a union delegation met the state Panchayat Department officials in June when they were assured that their long-pending demands would be met.
At a ‘Safai Mitra Utthan Sammelan’ held in Karnal earlier in April, state Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, had also announced an increase in salaries of sanitation workers across the state – the increment would be Rs 1,500 per month for the rural workforce.
However, all this is yet to be implemented, Kumar lamented on Friday. “We are told that the increment is waiting for an approval from the [state] finance department. This inordinate delay is causing a lot of problems to the rural sanitation workforce,” he said.
Kumar added that the delay in increasing the monthly payment is happening at a time when, “a notification,” issued in the month of May gave “more cleaning responsibilities” to the rural sanitation workers, thereby increasing their workload.
Since June 27, the union was engaged in a door-to-door campaign to mobilise for the protest action at Deputy CM Chautala’s residence in Sirsa. He holds the charge of department of Development & Panchayats in the state.
“The intentions of the state government don’t seem right. Hence, we will have to intensify the struggle for our demands,” Kumar said.