Failure in proper solid waste management system has led to an increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and cholera, while the congested life of the migrants has exposed them to deadly diseases like tuberculosis
KOCHI: Entering the dump yard at north Kalamassery near the eastern side of the NH 47, a man in his forties is seated amidst a huge pile of plastic waste and quietly going about his job -- stuffing the plastic bags and covers into a sack. His hands are bare and filled with mud from the last Tuesday night's heavy rain in the city.
Ali (he refuses to give his full name) is from West Bengal and it has been a year since he has come to Kerala, "I came to Kochi in 2017 and it has been a year since I am working in Kalamassery," he said. Work for Ali means collecting the plastic for the contractor, who works for the Municipality. Ali's work station is the waste dump yard at north Kalamassery. Walking forward one can notice tarpaulin sheets tied across sticks placed at the corners of the heaps of waste.
"These sheets are made so that we can relax when we take a break and also seek protection from the heat," said a jovial Ali, unaware of the vulnerable environment he is working in.Jahangir, a migrant worker from Delhi, said it took him a while to get used to the tough conditions. "In the beginning, when I started my work here with the waste, it was very difficult. After all, we are working with those things that we throw away as unwanted in our daily life," he said.
Working in garbage heaps, the migrant workers are exposed to several health hazards, said experts. Failure in proper solid waste management system has led to an increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and cholera in the state.The labourers working at the dumping ground use their bare hands to pick up untreated dirty plastic, exposing them to diseases."We ensure proper healthcare of the workers in the waste dumping ground by giving them the required gloves, gumboots and even raincoats. But they refuse to use them," said Sasikumar K S, health inspector, Kalamassery.
Routine checkups are given to them within six months to one year, and the last checkup was last year, he said. Benoy Peter, Executive Director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), said the congested life of migrant workers has exposed them to deadly diseases like tuberculosis which they are ignorant about.
"Most of these workers use diesel, instead of kerosene and gas, which will also cause serious diseases," he pointed out. A proper communication channel must be present to resolve the conditions to which they are exposed to, which is lacking in our system.Even the Health Department would not be able to address their grievances if there is no proper way to communicate, said Peter.
"Medical camps were provided for labourers exposed to such vulnerable conditions in the previous year and in which we have provided them with sanitisers and classes were also given to them on their exposure to such dangerous conditions," said Ernakulam Women's Association President Sreekumari Sundaram.
Battling the heat, working for almost 11 hours, the pay they get at the end of the month is below `5,000 which is very less compared to the risk they take. "Per one kilogram of plastic we collect in sacks, we get `4 and at the end of each week we get paid in accordance with the number of sacks we have finished in a week," said Malik, a co-worker who is from Delhi. "We cannot depend only on this work alone to meet our needs, we do a lot of other works such as loading and unloading trucks, cleaning jobs and likewise," he added.
"The most 'dirty, demeaning and dangerous' work is done by the most deprived group of migrant workers in the state and therefore the government needs to address their grievances by ensuring schemes to look into the needs of workers," said Peter.
The new labour policy of Kerala, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, has increased the pay scale of workers to Rs 600 per day, but that alone cannot improve their living conditions. They will have to resort to other jobs to make ends meet," he added. Bulbul Jaan, a woman in her forties, from Kolkata said they get paid for the sacks they pack. "My husband also works here to gain more money, children are not allowed to come with us in the dumping ground. Therefore, it is very difficult to survive with this job alone."