Heroes of Mumbai: This man keeps the city clean by sweeping the streets
In our ongoing series 'Heroes of Mumbai,' we showcase sweeper turned cleanup marshal, Dadarao Patekar, who is out there every day cleaning the streets of Mumbai for over two decades
Dadarao Babarao Patekar a resident of Shivaji Nagar, Chembur has been cleaning the streets of Mumbai for 22 years. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Dadarao is employed with the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika Corporation (BMC) as a safai mazdoor (cleanup marshal). He is posted in M-West ward of the municipal zone of the city and employed on a contractual basis. The area under M-ward comprises G.M. Link Road to Suman Nagar Junction and from Mahul to Somayya Nallah.
Dadarao never wanted to become a sweeper and a cleanup marshal but he had to take up this work due to lack of education and other job opportunities. After young Dadarao flunked his SSC exams his mother requested an officer in the BMC to help him get a job. The BMC official got Babarao employed as a street sweeper in the civic body and since then there was no looking back.
So, what work does a sweeper do, tell us about your work routine?
Dadarao explains, “I started as a sweeper in 1996 in BMC and my job was to clean litter and waste that accumulated on the streets of Mumbai. In 2015, I was shifted to the Solid Waste Management (SWM) department, where I work as a cleanup marshal. As a cleanup marshal, I pick up garbage, load them into the garbage trucks and dump the garbage in the dumping grounds.”
Dadarao starts his day at 6 am in the morning and winds up at 2.30 pm in the afternoon. He explains his daily routine and how he plans his day at work. On reaching the workplace, Dadarao his reporting officer informs him about his work location and the garbage truck he is assigned to. Each garbage collection truck consists of six cleanup marshals who work as a close-knit unit; collecting garbage from their respective wards and then dumping it in the dumping grounds.
So, how does the garbage collection process works?
"If the garbage truck is a large one then six people are assigned on it, if it is a minivan then four workers go in it and if its a garbage jeep then two workers are assigned to that vehicle. We reach our designated location and collect garbage from households, cooperative societies, buildings and dump them into the dump vehicles. After the collection is done, we drive to the dump yard and dump the garbage. I work for six days a week and get paid only for the days I work, unfortunately, my weekly off days are unaccounted for since I am a contract employee. If one is a permanent worker of the BMC then they get paid even for their holidays.”
However, pay is not the only issue, a cleanup marshal has to collect heaps of garbage that a city like Mumbai produces on a larger scale, which can be a major health issue if safety precautions are not adhered to. Tonnes of waste ranging from medicinal waste, plastic waste, solid waste, and other harmful materials are generated in our city, which the marshalls have to collect on a daily basis.
So, does the BMC provide these marshal with safety equipment and tools?
'No' says Dadarao. "As a cleanup marshal, we should be provided hand gloves, face masks, gumboots and raincoats to work during the monsoon season. But since we are employed on a contractual basis none of the basic safety equipment is provided to us.”
He further narrates his ordeal, "Since we collect garbage, we are exposed to health hazards. However, there is no facility to clean up or take a bath nor any facility to change clothes or even wash our hands for that matter and we go home in an unclean state. Every politician in the country says that the safai mazdoor are the soldiers of the country but the treatment given to the people who sweep the roads and collect the garbage is inhuman. Infact, the cleanup marshals are like the soldiers who guard our border; if we don't clean the streets and collect the garbage then people will suffer as uncollected garbage will lead to spreading of diseases.”
Despite working tirelessly to keep our city clean and free from garbage, the cleanup marshals get zero facilities relating to the safety and well being the workers. Collecting garbage without any safety gloves can cause a lot of skin and health problems.
"When we collect garbage there have been instances when people have even thrown the garbage on us from above buildings. Don't they realise that the garbage can harm us? The BMC says that they have provided canteen facilities for us but till date, I haven’t seen any canteen post working hours. Since we collect thrash from morning to afternoon, we do not get time to eat, so it is essential that the civic body make arrangements for a canteen where we can have meals”
Babarao says that the pay, bonus and other facilities that the cleanup marshal are getting nowadays are all due to the union that works for the betterment for the true ‘Heroes of Mumbai’.
Can you recall your worst day in the 22 years of your career as a sweeper and cleanup marshal?
Dadarao recalls that fateful day of 26th July when Mumbai was flooded. He states, “When the deluge of 26th July happened, it was us, the sweepers and the cleanup marshals who were out there on the streets of Mumbai working tirelessly collecting dirt and garbage that had accumulated on the roads for two to three days. I haven’t received my pay for those days till date. It's etched in my memory forever and I will remember it till the day I die.”
While employed as a garbage collector may not be his choice of work, Dadarao and many others like him have been forced to take up this occupation due to lack of education and job opportunities. The only ray of hope and positivity that motivates them is the fact that they are able to contribute to making the city clean and green.
What is your message to the citizens?
"We are also the soldiers of the country as we collect garbage and make sure that the environment and our city at large is clean. If we don’t collect the filth and dirt then people would die of diseases. Dirt and unclean environment will affect children and senior citizens will also suffer. I would request the citizens to put garbage in the dustbins and help us to make our country healthy, safe and clean."
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Heroes of Mumbai: Meet the men who sweep to keep Mumbai clean