HYDERABAD: Come rain or shine, forty-year-old Rampraksh (name changed) gets up at 4 am, prepares tea, wear his uniform and leaves home to clean the city roads. Ramprakash has to often get his hands dirty without proper safety gear to clean the city. As a result, he has even fallen sick on multiple occasions, and carried on without any complaints. “But now, I fear my work will be the reason that my family gets killed,” said Ramprakash.
Like Ramprakash, the GHMC employs more than 35,000 sanitation workers, which include 28,000 on contract basis, who form the backbone of the waste management system in the city. Most workers allege they have been working without safety gear or social security for years. However, with the increasing Covid-19 cases and the biomedical waste generated as a result, sanitation workers are scared more than ever for themselves and the lives of their families. Though they said that their multiple demands for better safety gear have only landed on deaf ears, GHMC officials have refuted these claims.
In GHMC, entomology department workers take up the fogging and sanitisation work in Covid-infected areas. Sanitation workers are responsible for the cleanliness in public areas. Workers from both departments face similar issues. Denying the workers’ claims, Dr Rambabu, chief entomologist at GHMC, told Express that proper measures are being taken for the safety of their workers. “Since the last year, many of our workers have tested positive, but we have made sure to provide them all the help and safety gear,” he said. Despite multiple efforts, officials of the sanitation department could not be reached for a comment.
Sanitation workers come in direct contact with human waste and toxic gases and are often at risk of chronic diseases. But, the pandemic has made their lives worse. During the first wave, many workers had tested positive and the number has increased multiple folds in the second wave. They allege that despite the high risk to their lives, they have not been provided with masks, or gloves, despite frequent demands.
“Used masks and gloves have become part of the garbage now. Unlike the last wave, now, we do not even know about all the Covid-positive patients that are in home isolation. We also collect bio-medical waste, which is not even segregated. All this, without any safety gears,” said a GHMC sanitation worker.