Civic conservancy workers brave virus worries, longer commute to sweep city

Jyoti Kadam is glad she does not have to keep glancing up at apartment windows while sweeping the streets at Borivli’s Prem Nagar. Till last month, residents would chuck plastic or vegetable peels from their windows, some of which would land on the 37-year-old civic conservancy worker. Not anymore. “If there’s one lesson that the Covid-19 outbreak has taught residents is that they must take cleanliness and hygiene seriously,” said Kadam in Marathi as she tugs hard at her handgloves. Kadam and her colleague, Suresh Solanki, 41, have not missed a single day of work since the virus outbreak. The two are responsible for keeping a kilometre of lanes and bylanes in Prem Nagar clean. “Of course, we are worried for ourselves,” said Solanki. “Despite the lockdown, we see residents milling around on the streets. We are scared of contracting the virus but we cannot stop working. In the current situation, government staff like us and the police have a very important role to play,” he added. Solanki, a school dropout, lives in Goregaon with his wife and children. He and Kadam work for six hours a day on the streets. Their day starts at 6.30am when they register their attendance at the RCentral Ward office near Borivli railway station. “Commuting has become a problem after trains shut. I can board BEST buses by flashing my ID card but have to shell out the fare from my pocket. Besides, commute by buses is longer as there are several stops and I have to leave home much earlier in the morning,” he said. For Kadam, who lives in Borivli, finding an autorickshaw in the morning helps. “If I don’t get an auto, then it’s a really long walk till the ward office and then to Prem Nagar,” she said. At home, her four-year-old daughter waits eagerly for her to return in the afternoon. “My husband, a chauffeur with a private company, is home looking after our daughter while I work. His company has asked all employees to work from home so he doesn’t have work at the moment. I’m glad she has her father around as her school is shut,” said Kadam. Having worked with the BMC for a decade now, Kadam and Solanki make Rs 12,000 a month. “The salary is higher for workers who have cleared Class X,” says Solanki. When asked if any of the residents have ever been kind to them, Solanki says a Shiv Sena functionary provides them with tea and biscuits every morning during break time. “What we would really like is more protection on the job. Overseas, booths are set up that spray disinfectants on conservancy staffers’ uniforms. All we have are masks and gloves and our supervisor has a bottle of sanitizer which he spares whenever we ask him for it,” said Solanki.