by Sangeetha Unnithan
Unpaid school fee, house rent, and loan repayments apart, Sheela (name changed), a mother of two, is bogged down by a host of other financial problems.
Rendered jobless for more than a month by the ongoing agitation against the solid-waste treatment plant at Vilappilsala, Ms. Sheela and her co-workers at the Jagathy Kudumbasree Clean Well unit were dealt another blow recently.
A fortnight ago, the garbage collection auto of the unit went up in flames. Ms. Sheela has no clue how the vehicle was gutted or who was responsible. All she knows is that the loan on the vehicle needs to be repaid, and that the Thiruvananthapuram city Corporation, which lent the vehicle, refuses to hand over the RC book needed to claim vehicle insurance.
“The Corporation gave us this vehicle to collect garbage on a loan of Rs.1.9 lakh a year ago. We have never failed to repay the monthly amount of Rs.4,000 in the past 11 months. The Corporation officials know very well that we have no income as waste collection in the city has come to a standstill. Yet, they expect us to pay the loan amount,” she said.
Full of ire
“Now, they are refusing to hand over the RC book of the vehicle since the loan repayment is pending. After doing the dirty job for them for the past six years, this is the way they treat us,” Ms. Sheela said.
Struggle all the way
Ms. Sheela's sentiment is echoed by the 800-odd Clean Well garbage collection workers in the city who believe the Corporation deserted them in their moment of crisis. With no livelihood, pension, or any other benefit, these women are struggling to make ends meet.
Kaveri (name changed), a member of the Valiyasala Clean Well unit, said the Corporation trapped them by thrusting on them a thankless job with no security, and then luring them to join a trade union.
Apparently, Corporation Health standing committee chairperson S. Pushpalatha hinted at a job threat a month ahead of the Vilappilsala agitation, and asked the Clean Well workers to join a Left-leaning trade union in order to ‘protect their job.'
“An amount of Rs.25 was collected from each one of us, and we were also asked to give two passport-size photographs. However, no membership card or receipt was issued. Later, when the crisis hit us, they simply deserted us. Apart from conducting a convention around a month ago, they have not supported us in any way so far,” Ms. Kaveri said.
Ms. Pushpalatha admitted that a membership fee was collected from a majority of the Clean Well workers.
“But before we could bring them together, they left us and joined another organisation to attack the Corporation. It is not the Corporation that snatched away their jobs. Then, why should they protest against us,” she said.
The Clean Well workers have now launched a stir against the Corporation under the Clean Well Thozhilali Samrakshana Vedi.
Interestingly, this organisation is led by a group which is part of the agitation against the Vilappilsala plant under the banner of the Vilappilsala Solidarity Forum.
“We think it is our moral responsibility to support the Clean Well workers who lost their job because of the agitation at Vilappilsala. These women have been exploited by the Corporation. They have no benefits, pension, or health insurance. After dealing with garbage for so many years, many of them suffer from various diseases,” M. Shajerkhan, chairperson of the Vedi, said.