As a result of sustained struggle of contract powrakarmikas, in June 2017, the Karnataka Government took a cabinet decision mandating abolition of contractors and direct payment of wages to workers. Despite this decision, the BBMP has been dragging its feet to implement the same and the contract pourakarmikas are suffering at the hands of the contractors on a daily basis!
The BBMP was a mute spectator to the illegal protest and strike held by the contractors on two occasions in August and September 2017, during which period, the workers worked despite serious threats. The Union protested against the illegal action of the contractors and filed complaints seeking action against them. However, instead of taking action against the contractors, shockingly, the State Government imposed the draconian Essential Services Maintenance Act curtailing the fundamental right to strike of workers!
Due to the collusion between the BBMP and the contractors, ensures the continuance of the illegal contract system, wherein workers continue to be exploited – not paid wages for months on end and made to work 365 days a year. This has, in fact, emboldened the contractors further and has resulted in the physical and sexual abuse of the workers by contractors.
On 12th October, 2017 in K.R. Puram (Ward No. 55), when the workers, who had not been paid wages for 3 months, asked for the payment of their wages, the contractor Nagesh told the pourakarmikas to take their due wages from inside his pants! He boasted to the workers that he had several criminal cases against him and that he would rape them if they dared speak out against him. A complaint was filed with the BBMP’s Sexual Harassment Committee, but no action was taken.
On 19th October, 2017, the said contractor, having learnt of the filing of the complaint, rounded up the 37 women workers and assaulted two of them with iron rods causing injuries to them and threatened to shove the rod inside their vagina till it came out of their mouth. The contractor also went on to hurl casteist abuses at the women, and stripped publicly! This contractor had also confiscated the passbooks and ATM cards of the workers, while also paying the workers only half their salary, and pocketing the rest. It was after much struggle from the workers and their union, that the KR Puram police registered two FIRs against the contractor – one, for sexual assault, for violating provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and the second, for cheating and extortion in confiscating the ATM card of the workers. However, the contractor has not been arrested, and remains absconding.
It is unacceptable that the BBMP has issued the work order to the contractor, Nagesh who boasts of being a criminal. This is not an isolated instance. Most contractors who have been issued work orders are all associates of BBMP officials and elected representatives, and have suspected criminal backgrounds. Yet, the BBMP continues to retain them as their so-called garbage contractors. This exposes the malafide on part of the BBMP which is condemnable.
Importantly, this is the second such reported attack by the contractor against the workers in the recent past. In April 2017, the contractor had assaulted two workers in Peenya for having demanded their wages, causing serious injury to them. The police registered an FIR, but no chargesheet has been filed till date and no action was taken by the BBMP against the said contractor.
The contract system perpetuates violence against Dalit women, and these incidents expose the same. Casteist slurs are hurled at male pourakarmikas as well. Unless this exploitative contract system is removed, no real change can come about in the lives of pourakarmikas.
The BBMP Guttige Pourakarmika Sangha has consistently protested against the contract system, while seeking direct payment of wages for the workers. In light of this, a protest has been organised by the Union on October 25th, 2017 (Wednesday) at the BBMP Head Office (Hudson Circle) at 12.30 pm. The Union has made the following demands –
- Remove the exploitative and abusive contract system and immediately ensure direct payment of wages to all powrakarmikas and regularise the services of all powrakarmikas
- Implement the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, in letter and spirit and conduct an enquiry into the complaints filed by pourakarmikas and create a safe working place for the powrakarmikas
- Immediate cancellation of work order of Nagesh, the contract and blacklist him from contract in any work in the State
- Conduct a speedy investigation into the complaints, arrest the accused and ensure their conviction.
- Ensure immediate payment of pending wages to powrakarmikas
- Enquiry must be conducted as to how the contractor Nagesh was chosen as the contractor and had the work order issued to him and action should be taken against all those involved in getting him the work order despite his criminal background.
- BBMP must publicly apologise for its inaction which has resulted in the assault and exploitation of the powrakarmikas
- Revoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act imposed against powrakarmikas