On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), aimed at achieving, “Swachh Bharat” (clean India) by 2019. The mission was popularised by a spate of film stars, politicians and the PM himself posing with broomsticks, sweeping the streets. The mission was publicised as though there is no one working to keep the cities, towns and villages clean. The civic workers who have been doing it were invisible in the abstract cleanliness drive of Modi.
Highlighting their absence in this mission, and putting forward their own set of demands, the civic workers in Bengaluru, under the banner of BBMP Contractual Civic Workers’ Union, took out a huge rally today in the city. The rally started at 12 pm from Freedom Park, and concluded with a convention and a general body meeting at Varadaraja hall in Malleshwaram at 2 pm. BBMP is the Bengaluru city corporation body. It is responsible for civic and infrastructural development in the city. Solid waste management, health and town planning are few of the many departments that constitute BBMP along with 12 standing committees of the city council. All these committees and departments are to work together to ensure the development of the Bangalore metropolitan areas.
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BBMP is an employer of civic workers (pourakarmikas), who work to ensure that the demands of the city are met. The workers demand:
Uniform payment for uniform work to all the workers employed by BBMP.
Every worker employed by the BBMP should be declared permanent employee.
The salary should be deposited on or before the seventh of every month, and the wage slips have to be issued.
The workers above the age of sixty and those with an experience of less than a year should be re-employed. Workers in these categories were taken out under the contractual employment.
It should be ensured that every worker is provided with the safety measures.
Employees' State Insurance (ESI) and Provident Fund (PF) have to be given to all the workers.
The weekly offs, national holidays and the festival holidays have to be announced.
The contract system should be fully abolished and the salaries of the drivers, loaders and unloaders have to be deposited directly by the BBMP.
The union also pointed at the inflation in the city, and said that it is impossible for the workers to meet the ends. According to a report in The Hindu, the salaries of the pourakarmikas across the state have been nearly doubled and according to the Labour Department officials, the pourakarmikas of Bengaluru are among the highest paid in the country. Civic workers employed by the BBMP were being paid Rs. 7,730 (including PF and ESI). The Labour Department announced on August 4, 2016 that the wages have been hiked to Rs. 14,040. This was possible only after a long struggle of the workers in the state. Their struggle also has forced the BBMP to end the contractual employment.
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The BBMP Contractual Civic Workers’ union is also reflecting on the logic behind Modi’s SBM. The union, in its press note, said that the SBM does not consider the civic workers who mostly belong to Dalit communities – not only not acknowledging the work of the civic workers in keeping the country Swacch, their working conditions, lack of safety measures, the SBM negates the history of oppression.
Swachh Bharat and the Civic Workers
The union has argued that the SBM does not pay attention to the factors of the caste and the class of the workers. Thus, the union asks how it is possible to achieve Swachh Bharat without addressing these basic questions of caste and class? For cleaning is an “occupation” in the country of only certain people. Not protecting the rights of the civic workers, SBM is doing more harm to the workers, argues the union. For example, in the name of SBM, the workers (and others) who defecate in public due to the absence of the public toilets are not only insulted, but also slapped with various charges.
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On June 16, 2017, Zaffar of the CPI (ML) – also an AICCTU activist – was lynched in Rajasthan for defending poor women, as the Rajasthan government officials tried to take photos and videos of them defecating in public. The AICCTU had noted that the women were forced to defecate in the open because the government had refused funds to construct toilets in their colony.
SBM does not pay heed to the question of infrastructure either. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) had claimed in Lok Sabha that about 84 per cent of the rural areas of the country have sanitation coverage as of May 24, 2018. The Parliamentary Committee on Rural Development (2017-18) headed by Dr. P Venugopal of AIADMK dismissed the claim of the report and noted: “The committee while examining the subject was of the view that the sanitation coverage figures seemed to be more on “Paper” but the actual progress at the ground level is very lethargic.” The report also raised questions on the BJP-led Centre’s ambitious SBM(G). “The poor nature of construction and low quality of raw materials being used in the construction of toilets under SBM(G), as found by committee members and through different feedbacks.” Criticising the improper implementation of the SBM(G), the report added: “No amount of infrastructural development under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) or SBM(G) will sustain ODF, until and unless the issue of durability and quality of construction of toilets is taken due care of.”
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The union has also alleged that some of the BBMP officials, contractors and police officers illtreat the workers by hurling casteist abuses at them. The union has also registered cases against many such people in the past.
The convention today in Bengaluru hosted leaders and the members of the union to discuss these larger concerns of the community. The union also noted that the main concern that will be discussed is to ensure that the children of the civic workers will not be forced to be civic workers due to lack of education.
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