At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the city sleeps, these crusaders of the night set out to protect citizens.
Drat! Restaurateur Prithvi Shetty with the air gun that he uses to tackle the rat menace in his joint. PIC/Suresh K K
They may not be caped superheroes, but they do fend off killers like leptospirosis and murine typhus. Meet the NRKs, aka Night Rat Killers.
Paid barely Rs 300 a night for the all-important job, you would think the BMC would at least provide them with basic equipment. It turns out, however, that not only is this not done, they often go unpaid and are marked absent if they fail to meet their target of killing 30 rats a day. The civic body had also allegedly promised that they would be made permanent employees soon — something that remains largely a dream.
There are 31 NRKs in the city and the BMC’s motive behind deploying them was to control the rat menace. Besieged by so many problems, however, the NRKs say they have little incentive to carry out their duties.
“The BMC is supposed to give us basic equipment like torches, hand gloves, masks, gum boots and sticks. None of these are given and we have to even carry bags for dumping the dead rats from home. I, and many of my colleagues, have been bitten by dogs while carrying out our duties, but we did not receive any help from the authorities,” said an NRK, on condition of anonymity.
“We are given targets of killing 30 rats a night, and go unpaid if we are even one short. Not even a rupee is given if we kill 29. To top it all, we were promised that we would be made permanent workers, which has not happened. We have written to the BMC about these things, but to no avail,” he added.
Opposition leader and Congress Corporator Devendra Amberkar said, “These workers are facing problems and the administration needs to give them justice. I will take up this matter with the authorities. It is difficult to work in the rains without basic equipment and if the BMC continues to behave this way with them, they will stop working and the citizens will be affected.”
Prithvi Shetty, a Pratiksha Nagar resident, who runs a restaurant in the area, was facing constant trouble from rats, which thrive in the garbage dumps nearby. When methods like poisoning and rat traps failed due to the stench, he went out and got himself a gun — an air gun.
“It was not possible to kill the rats by throwing stones or sticks. Poison and rat traps, on the other hand, led to dead rats stinking up the restaurant. I was looking for ways to tackle the problem, which gets acute in the monsoons, and zeroed in on air guns. Last month, I went out and bought one for R7,500 from Crawford Market. This method has proved successful and I have killed 19 rats in one month alone.”
Asked why he didn’t approach the BMC, Shetty said, “I live in an area that has a transit camp. The BMC doesn’t even have enough staff to clean the drains here. I knew they would just neglect the rat issue even if I brought it up.”
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by leptospira. The bacteria are transmitted from animals to humans when people with unhealed breaks in the skin or injuries come into contact with water or soil that has been contaminated with animal urine. The symptoms include high temperature (usually between 100.4-104°F), chills, sudden headaches, nausea and vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Murine Typhus (typhus transmitted from rats and mice via flea bites) is curable but can also prove fatal for the elderly and those with pre-existing health complications. The symptoms of this disease are vomiting, fever, headache, cough etc.
Prashant Bhatia, a general physician, said, “Rats are very dangerous during the rainy season. The urine of the rats, which mixes with the rainwater, contains leptospira. These bacteria enter our body through small minor cuts that aren’t visible to us, but are present in almost every individual’s foot. Once these bacteria enter our body, they cause body fever, jaundice and even kidney damage. Hence, it is very necessary to control the rat menace.”
Executive Health Officer P Keskar said, “Yes, dog bite cases have taken place and we have taken care of the victims. We do provide them with torches and other equipment and if these things are not given to some NRKs, I will ensure that this is done immediately. The permanent job issue, however, will need to be discussed with higher authorities. To control the rat menace, the citizens need to join hands with us and stop dumping garbage everywhere.”