Pics credit: Ashvita Singh
Kirit Vaghela (40), leader of Gujarat Safai Kamdar Mahamandal, was detained by Gandhinagar police for planning a rally from Sector 12 (Gandhinagar) to Gujarat Municipal Corporation headquarters. He was later moved to Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad. The same day, around 5,000 to 8,000 members of the Bharwad and Rabari community took part in a rally to protest the murder of 27-year-old Kishan Bharwad who was murdered by two bike-borne assailants in the Dhandhuka area of Gujarat’s Ahmedabad district on January 25.
“The protest was happening near G5 circle in Gandhinagar, but they received the permission. When we sought permission, they dragged me from here and put me behind bars,” said Vaghela. He was released on furnishing bail on February 15.
Kirit, a contractual sanitation worker outsourced from a private agency by the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation, has been on strike since December 28, 2021, against what he describes as unlawful exploitation of contractual workers by the GMC and private agencies they are outsourced from. The leader of the Safai Kamdar Mahamandal has the support of more than 400 sanitation workers who have been protesting in a garden near sector 12, Gandhinagar, a few steps away from the GMERS Medical College.
Vaghela had been observing fast until his detention. He alleged that he was taken to a hospital where he was forced by the police officers to break his fast. “This is how they treat us when we exercise our basic right to protest. Our demand is simple: Make us an official GMC employee. We are putting in the same number of hours as GMC workers and getting no privileges. We were even given the Corona Warriors’ certificate during the first Covid wave. Why can’t they fill around 1,000 to 1,500 vacancies for sanitation workers’ by bringing us in? All of us are outsourced workers from the Valmiki community. The private agencies treat us as slaves and exploit us.”
The GMC had distributed smartwatches to sanitation workers in 2018 to track and mark their attendance.
Vaghela says that the cost of those watches was also cut from their monthly salary, which in any case is as low as Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000. “If we don’t work for one day, our contractor cuts two days salary. We get the entire salary only if we work 25 days a month. If we work for 20 days a month, they don’t pay us anything,” Vaghela said.
The union of workers had written a letter to the Gujarat BJP President C.R. Paatil in December. In reply to the letter, Paatil asked the GMC to look into the matter and take appropriate steps.
Gandhinagar Mayor Hitesh Makwana recently drew attention to a circular of the Gujarat government directing the corporation to fill up Class IV vacancies through outsourcing. To this, Kirit Vaghela said, “We have the circular, and as per our understanding, only state government offices are supposed to follow that rule. Municipal Corporation is an autonomous entity.”
Sunil Vaghela, an activist and Class IV employee with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, said, “The circular the mayor is talking about is of 2005 and is only applicable to state government officials. What he fails to take into account is that the GMC is a statutory body and is capable of passing its own law. They can easily fill up the vacancies with the outsourced workers – giving them the official post of class IV employee.”
Sunil, who is also the leader of Safai Kamdars, said a delegation of workers met Pradip Parmar, Cabinet Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment in Gujarat, two days back. “He heard us and assured us that a resolution would be reached in two to five days,” Sunil said.
Sunil said the protesting workers had not been credited salaries for the last two to four months. “The government has to step up and soon resolve the issue,” he added.
Until this report was put out, the Gandhinagar Mayor could not be reached for comment.
Archana Parmar, an advocate who is supporting the protest, said the way the officials are treating the protesting sanitation workers’ is really humiliating. “There was no reason for the police to take Kirit Vaghela to Central jail,” Parmar said.