Sanitation workers of Guwahati Municipal Corporation on duty amid lockdown

Guwahati: In a country where, according to statistics, a sanitation worker dies every five days, they will still be on duty amid the countrywide lockdown over the coronavirus threat. Md Nurul Islam (32), a sanitation worker who has been working with the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) for several years, is among the 1,200 who will be on the forefront in the battle against COVID-19.

Nurul Islam, a 32-year-old sanitation worker of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation

Although aware of the fact that he is putting his life at risk, he also realises that it is for the greater good of the people.

Nurul says, “If we do not work, the city will start stinking in only two to three days’ time. Someone has to do the dirty work so it has to be the sanitation workers. Although there is a lockdown our job has to continue otherwise the lockdown will not bear any result. The garbage will create more problems than the lockdown is meant to solve.”

A sanitation worker of Guwahati Municipal Corporation spraying antibacterial on streets of the city 

The identity-less workers

Nurul will be accompanied by around 1,200 others who will be on duty round the clock to make sure that the city stays clean and hygienic. Along with collecting garbage, their job will also be to spray antibacterial in all corners of the city to keep it safe from any kind of infection. While the door-to-door garbage collection will be carried in the morning hours, sanitation workers will also be deployed across the city after sundown to spray disinfectants.

However, with the rule being imposed that anyone violating the lockdown will be imprisoned for 6 months scares workers like Nurul who do not even have an identity proof of being a sanitation worker of the municipal corporation.

“Most of us do not even have an identity card, so if police see us on the streets at these times they may get violent. We cannot afford to go to jail since we have families to feed. It gets scary for us at times, since we are only doing our job,” Nurul said.

Around 1,200 sanitation worker to remain on duty across Guwahati amid lockdown

The daily battle

Day for sanitation workers like Nurul begins at 6am when all of them go from door-to-door to collect garbage. For those who have a bicycle, travelling gets easier and the others walk the distance.

Nurul works with the flying squad whose job starts around 1pm. He collects the piled up garbage from the designated dustbins and makes sure that it reaches the dumping ground in Boragaon near Gorchuk. He is also responsible to respond to complaints of inconveniences caused to people. Safety is also one of the issues that concerns Nurul and his colleagues.

“We have been provided gloves and masked but it is barely enough to meet the requirements of all the sanitation workers. Not all of us have the gloves due to which we fall sick after every two to three months. It puts more financial burden on us as the minimum wage for the sanitation workers is Rs 7,500 to Rs 8,000 and a visit to the hospital costs us around Rs 2,000,” Nurul mentioned.

A probable solution

With hope to make things easier for the sanitation workers, the Harijan Mazdoor Union has submitted a list of demands in a letter to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation. Their demands include:

  • Safety measures such as gloves, masks and soap to be provided to the sanitation workers
  • They also demand transport facility for the sanitation workers since public transport has been suspended.
  • Identification card for sanitation workers
  • Duty rooster to be prepared for the workers and work management to be done by 50 per cent employees as announced by the government.
Letter submitted by labour union to Guwahati Municipal Corporation

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