|Landless sanitation workers survive on peanuts, bleak future prospects|
Early Times Report
Rajouri, Jan 22: Wakes up at 3:30, Buland Ahmed (37) of Dassal locality, has to trek rugged terrain of nearly seven kilometers, which traverse through several localities, full of furious stray dogs and darkness to reach his place of duty and start sanitation works and complete it before the locality starts its day. Buland Ahmed is a daily wager sanitation worker of Municipal Committee Rajouri and is getting a monthly salary of Rs 6750 and in such a little amount, it is not possible for him to run his family. Despite being a permanent resident of J&K, Buland has a similar story like thousands of Safai Karamcharis (non-permanent) working in Jammu Municipal Corporation for decades, who are alleged victims of biased provisions of now revoked, Article 370, 35A that was denying citizenship rights to the outsiders in J&K.
“I’m working here for the past eight years, I hope of that day when my service will be regularized, but presently it is difficult for me to meet the requirement of my family of five persons including three children and my wife in partly sum of Rs 6750 monthly”, Ahmed said. Like other Safai Karamcharis working in MC Rajouri, I don’t have any motor-vehicle to reach my work station, which continues to change. I have enrolled all three children in private school with a hope of better education that it will make their future better. I want my children to study well to get rid of this traditional work we are doing for generations to make both ends meet. Originally a native of Androla area, the outskirts of Rajouri town, the father of Buland Ahmed, Omar Din, an agriculture laborer had shifted in the city 50 years back.
“My father had not even a piece of his own land at Androla village. He uses to work in the field of a landlord as agriculture labour. But un-able to feed his family, he left that village and came in the city”, he said, recollecting the story he heard from his father. “Anyhow, my father got a temporary job in MC, and latter he regularized. In 1980, the then Deputy Commissioner, Rajouri allotted plots five marlas for each family in Dassal village now, part of MC Rajouri”, he said with confidence being an owner of land respect for the then Deputy Commissioner, who gave them right to land.
“Payment for the incomplete toilet I started constricting under SBM is pending. I have talked to the concerned officer much time, but he escapes by saying that due to the “internet problem” the money cannot be transferred”, he added. Presently, around 25 families of Safai Karamcharis both from the Hindu and the Muslim community, are residing in the area togather. The community (Safai Karamcharis) housed in another locality, Peer Kanju, ward no 13, where 18 families residing. Despite being a workforce of the civic body of the City, both the localities Dassal and the Keer Kanju sans basic amenities for these people. Mushtaq Ahmed a permanent Safai Karamcharis, has a similar story like his brother Buland Ahmed.
“I have borrowed loan from the bank for construction of my house, but still my house is in shamble”, said, Mushtaq, adding that I don’t know whether I will be able to complete my house before my retirement. “I’m 55 years old now, and find it difficult to complete remaining works of my incomplete house”, he said. Disappointed with his department, as several facilities for the Safai Karamcharis, have been stopped like a uniform, shoes, etc. he said that we are supposed to perform our duties without any break to keep the city clean, that too before sunrise, but the department finds it difficult to provide basic facilities. “A few years back, the department stopped providing us uniforms, shoes, and sanitizer. Earlier, we were getting seasonal uniforms, shoes, and sanitizer regularly”, he said, adding that five years back his colleague died of an attack while performing his duty. “Mani Ram, my colleague, died at Mandi area of Rajouri town while cleaning the street, due to cold five years back. However, the department on the compensatory ground provided a job to his son Deepak”, he said.
“The Safai Karamcharis, facing various health problems but the department never bothers to provide us Medicare or regular check-up. Our work is very ‘dirty’ and increases the risk of deadly diseases so it the responsibility of the department to provide us medical check-up after a regular interval of time”, he suggests. The Safai Karamcharis of Rajouri town has some common complaints of violation of Labour Law.
“When the country celebrates, special occasions like festivals or national days our works load goes high in many folds, and we have to work hard on these days without a holiday, we request the administration to compensate our sacrifice”, they said, adding that the department should pay us over time, beyond the fix salaries of both regular and daily wager employees. “We work for more than 12 hours in a day, as our works start at 4 a.m. and end at 4 p.m and some 5 p.m. but no one takes our miseries seriously”, they said.
They said that the 17 wards Municipal Committee Rajouri are spread over a vast area need huge staff and multi-purpose vehicles to clean the city. “Presently, the MC has only two vehicles a mini truck and an auto to take away the garbage collected by the 55 Safai Karamcharis including 25 permanent and 30 daily wagers from the all 17 wards of the MC”, they added. There should be a regularization policy for the daily wager engaged by the department. “Here are the employees who are serving as a daily wager for the last 10-12 years. The bosses, adopt pick and chose policy when it comes to service regularization of an employee”, they added.
Director Urban Local Bodies, Jammu Vir Ji Hangloo told, “There established procedure for regularization of daily wagers. If someone engaged through proper rules, his/her service will be regularized after 10 years. But if someone engaged through the back door, there is no policy to regularize such person.”
The author is a Jammu-based journalist and media fellow with National Foundation of India.