More than 30 million people live in Mumbai and the city generates 7,500 metric tonnes of garbage daily. Meet the foot soldiers of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – the 39,000 people entrusted with cleaning the city up.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan in October, 2014 and co-opted Indians into a campaign to Clean up India. He nominated nine famous people including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, industrialist Anil Ambani and actor Kamal Hasan, starting off a nationwide game of tag.
The innovative campaign created a lot of buzz in the initial weeks with nominated celebrities enthusiastically picking up brooms and answering the call to action. The made for media images served everybody equally.
While the movement continues and the government has launched an ad campaign to support the celebrity led one on the ground, the question is how much has the public mindset changed, if it has changed at all. We posed the question to the people who are the foot soldiers of the campaign – The Conservancy Workers.
Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation, The BMC, has more than 39000 people working on the ground to keep the city clean. While 70% are permanent employees, 28% are contract labourers.
The job is a tough one with very rudimentary safety and hygiene gear. Hand gloves, shoes, surgical masks and equipment to pick garbage are few and far between. The gear is often of poor quality and replacements are infrequent. The crew we spoke to said the last time they had been given protective gear was three years ago! Picking up dead animals with bare hands was all in a day’s work.
While they reacted positively to the Prime Minister’s campaign they say that little has changed on the ground. Unless the common man changes his outlook Swachh Bharat may just be a pipe dream.