A Day in The Lives of Garbage Collectors

Raju, the supervisor (pictured in cap)

Contracted garbage collectors and pourakarmikas have ignored and physically trying jobs. The wages of their labour do not do justice to the work that they do.

While I am walking down Church Street at 11:45am, I see a garbage truck parked opposite the popular restaurant, Chutney Chang. One man stands on top of the truck while another collects the waste from the restaurant and brings it to the truck. As I began talking to one of the civic workers, the supervisor, Raju said, “our starting point is Garuda Mall. We pass through Richmond Road, come onto Church Street, and then onto M G Road and go to the waste processing plant in Doddaballapura.”

Their daily waste collection trip starts at t 4:00 am.

Obulesh, the truck driver estimates that they collect around 5,000 kilograms of waste every day from restaurants as well as the garbage left on the streets they pass through. The waste is segregated before they collect it and is then taken to the Doddaballapura landfill.

These workers are hired by private contractors and even the truck and their equipment has been provided by them. They have been given protective gear such as gloves and boots but prefer not to wear it. “I get paid Rs 10,000 in cash per month,” Obulesh says. When asked whether he is paid regularly, he nods in agreement. He has been making this trip for 5-6 years now along with the five people in his truck, including the supervisor.

Malaya, a pourakarmika
The wooden pieces Malaya uses to pick up garbage

From Church Street, I walk towards  Ashok Nagar, where I see four pourakarmikas sweep the road. Malaya, one of the sweepers uses two pieces of wood to scoop up garbage and dumps it into Bhagya’s sack. Malaya says , “we start at Lifestyle in Richmond Circle and go up to Ashok Nagar Dhobi Ghat, cleaning both sides of the road.”

They have also been hired by a contractor who has employed 35 pourakarmikas to clean up that area. What happens to the garbage that piles up that they sweep? Bhagya says, they  leave the garbage on the footpath near the dhobi ghat which is collected every morning by the garbage collection trucks.

When asked if they were provided with any equipment, Malaya said that they had only been given brooms. The contractor usually pays them by cheque. “I suffer from back pain and I haven’t even received my payment for last month,” he said. Bhagya carried on with her work while Malaya speaks and repeatedly nudged Malaya to get back to work because their shift ends at 1:00pm and they had been working since 7:00am.

Joan Cherian