Heaps of garbage have piled up on roads and in residential areas of Bihar cities with the indefinite strike by thousands of sanitation workers entering its fourth day on Friday.
Ignoring the warnings of the authorities, the 30,000 Group D sanitation workers have decided to continue the strike unless their 12 demands, including equal pay for equal work, regularisation of jobs and an end to outsourcing, are fulfilled.
Frustrated and angry with the state government’s apathy for years, the workers have thrown heaps of garbage and dead animals at different places in Patna. The indefinite strike was called by Bihar Local Bodies Karamchari Sanyukt Sangharsh Morcha and Bihar Rajya Sthaniya Nikay Karamchari Mahasangh. Last month, both organisations had warned of a strike by sanitation workers in early September if their long-pending demands were not met.
Mahasangh leader Chandraprakash Singh told Newsclick, “We will continue to fight for our genuine demands. If heaps of garbage are piling up, it is the government’s failure.” If officials are not willing to listen to the striking sanitation workers, chief minister Nitish Kumar should intervene, he added.
Another leader Amrit Prasad said that the sanitation workers of all urban local bodies, including Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC), are united this time. “Unless the government fulfils our demands, the indefinite strike will continue. We are not afraid of government action.”
The PMC lodged FIRs against 26 striking workers in Patna for creating hurdles in sanitation on Thursday with commissioner Himanshu Sharma warning the others of action if they don’t resume work.
Meanwhile, principal secretary of Urban Development Department (UDD) Anand Kishor has directed officials of all the 218 urban bodies across the state to start a dialogue with the striking workers and use workers of outsourcing agencies. Workers hired by the urban local bodies have been provided security amid reports that the striking workers had chased away the administrative staff when they reached the office along with the hired labourers on Wednesday and Thursday.
In Patna and other big towns like, Gaya, Muzaffarpur and Bhagalpur, the impact of the strike is visible with heaps of garbage and filth. “The streets are stinking with garbage spread by the cattle and dogs. People can be seen with their noses and mouths covered to avoid the stench,” businessman Saket Kumar told Newsclick. Even traffic police personnel cover their faces with handkerchief to escape the foul smell.
According to PMC, with nearly 800-900 tonnes of garbage collected daily, more than 25,000 tonnes has been either dumped or accumulated at hundreds of places in Patna. Hundreds of striking workers are protesting at PMC’s headquarters.
The striking workers said that the government discriminates between them and permanent sanitation workers even though both do similar work. A contractual daily wager earns Rs 9,000 per month while an outsourced worker gets Rs 7,000. In comparison, a permanent worker is paid Rs 30,000 per month plus benefits. Contractual sanitation workers should get, at least, Rs 18,000 per month as they slog to keep the city clean and clear, they said.
The striking workers said that hundreds of them have been working for the last 10 years on daily wages hoping that they would be regularised. According to them, they are the real workers of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, but the government has ignored them.
PMC workers had ended an earlier indefinite strike declared in February after an assurance that their demands would be fulfilled. However, after the demands were not met, nearly 7,000 PMC sanitation workers, including 4,700 daily wagers and 2,300 outsourced workers, went on an indefinite strike on August. The protestors had ended their strike on August 13.
Last year, PMC sanitation workers protested the state government’s decision to remove them instead of regularising their jobs. Group D daily wagers, including sanitation workers, went on strike twice and ended their protests following verbal assurances by top government officers. However, their demands have not been met.