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How municipality’s sweepers suffer for wages and facilities

Srinagar, Nov 27: Puffing a cigarette, Bashir (not his real name) leans onto a five-foot broom, staring at the fallen Chinar leaves scattered on the Bund along the Jhelum.

The sun in the November sky makes him squint his eyes, as he moves his bristle-broom a little faster, causing a cloud of dust.

Bashir, a middle-aged sweeper associated with the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), had nearly quit his job until his financial compulsions forced him to return to work.

Every day, Bashir, before his day’s work begins at 2 in the afternoon, shoulders rice bags from Fair Price Shops to the consumers’ homes.
“Last month, I took a loan from a friend just to survive. I was left in a fix, as I had no money to spend on my daily expenses,” Bashir, who works on pittance paid by the municipality after “every four months”, says.

“How long shall I live like this?” he asks, breaking into a cough due to dust.

Bashir’s colleague, who works in the evening shift, cleans a barber’s salon and a few houses for additional income.“Money remains a constant worry. Our monthly remuneration is too less to survive on. If cleanliness is so important, why are we given this step-motherly treatment?” Nazir (not his real name), whose monthly remuneration amounts to Rs 7,500, says.

Out of eleven sweepers on duty at the spot, not a single one wears the uniform. They sweep without gloves or masks.

An exception, Javed Ahmad (name changed) has disposable plastic gloves on.“No, they are not provided by the municipality,” he clears. “My sister, who works in the Health Department, gave them to me, as I had developed blisters because of the frequent exposure to dust.”

While the tussle over increased wages is common for the substantive staff in the government departments, hike seems a distant dream for the daily-wagers, who put in the same effort.

To aggravate their problems, they are deprived of the various provisions such as safety gear or uniforms.
Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Peer Hafizullah, says the department has already redressed their grievances.“We have placed an order for 3,500 uniforms through the state Handloom Department. Also, the purchase officer has been authorised to buy the required equipment including masks, gloves and gum-boots,” he said.

“These matters are on our priority list but there is a certain procedure to be followed in government departments which unfortunately takes time.”