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Sanitation staff forced to work sans safety gear in Hyderabad

Hyderabad: Hyderabad may have become free of garbage bins but the sanitation workers of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) continue to lift domestic waste with their bare hands, even during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, over 3,000 Covid-positive patients are under home isolation in Hyderabad, Rangareddy and Medchal Malkagiri districts limits of Greater Hyderabad. There are around 24,000 sanitation workers in the city.

A month ago, there were garbage bins located at street corners, and a few designated dumping points. The bins were lifted using a jib attached to the tipper without manual intervention. According to the officials, the contract for garbage transfer is now undertaken by Ramky Environmental Engineers, which has not begun the work, so the corporation is forcing workers to lift waste using bare hands.

Apart from domestic waste, the garbage consist of medical waste such as syringes, gloves, and cotton balls. However, sanitation workers are forced to work for nearly 14 hours a day without any safety gear.

“I am doing my best to be safe,” said Ravikanth, a door-to-door garbage collector at Asif Nagar, who was wearing a woollen glove. “We were given masks and gloves earlier, when we were called the frontline warriors, during the strict lockdown. But now, nobody cares,” he added.

A global study titled ‘Covid-19 Induced Waste Scenario’, published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, revealed that an infected person can generate up to 3.40 kg of hazardous waste each day. “We have no choice. If we miss lifting the garbage for a day, it piles up into a mound. The corporation is not even helping us with proper masks and gloves,” a sanitation worker said.

“Used masks, gloves, syringes, napkins, cotton balls, and diapers are mixed with the garbage and, we cannot know where it is coming from. To be more cautious, we use sticks to lift such waste. But we never know what we touch because it’s all mixed,” said another sanitation worker. Both the sanitation workers were lifting garbage at Niloufer Hospital road on Wednesday.