GARBAGE: Election season in India has an unseen cost. Safai karamcharis dispose of hundreds of kgs of litter after every rally — 100 kg on average

By Tabassum Barnagarwala

This is one hidden calculation of this election. What happens at a poll meeting after the leader has spoken, the cameras turned off, the visitors cleared out? Party workers, safai jaramcharis, volunteers and laborers are at work hours later, at the end of one such rally in Indore, ”India’s Cleanest city”…

On May 13, while addressing a rally at Indore’s Dussehra Maidan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Indore took my Swachh Bharat campaign seriously,” referring to Indore being named India’s cleanest city for the third time in a row under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
An hour and 20 minutes later, around 8.15 pm, an army of 150 BJP youth wing members fanned out across the 4,000-sq ft carpeted venue to pick up the trash left behind by the 35,000 people gathered to listen to the Prime Minister. The total litter: 300 kg, enough to fill three mini-trucks. Much less, says the team, than the nearly 500 kg left behind after rallies with much smaller crowds in other cities.
This election season, Indore had about 120 roadshows and rallies, and over 200 public meetings by the Congress and the BJP. Each event, depending on the crowd, generated about 100 kg of litter on an average, say officials.
“All political parties were issued instructions in advance to ensure zero littering on roads. After roadshows, our cleaners did the job, but in a rally, like the one at Dusshera Maidan, we charged the party 5,000 for cleaning,” says Vivek Yadav, chief sanitary inspector. Srigopal Jagtap, Assistant Vice President at Basix Municipal Waste Ventures, that has been contracted by the Indore corporation to collect door-to-door garbage, says that ahead of the political events the municipal corporation also appealed to the public to not litter. “Be it Holi celebrations or political rallies, they have urged everyone to avoid throwing litter on the roads,” he says. On the ground, at the Dussehra Maidan, the BJP’s team got down to doing its share of the cleaning, armed with the white satin covers that not too long ago adorned the plastic chairs in the VIP section. Clutching three plastic bottles, Ayush Patidar, 21, walked around peeping under chairs. The Sehore resident, who is pursuing his BSc in Agriculture, said, “I wanted to do something different while studying and so I joined the BJP Yuva Morcha a year ago.” He went on to pick up pamphlets, cardboard cut-outs of PM Modi, and bottles and juice cartons strewn around on the green carpet. Indore BJP youth president Manasvi Patidar says the team had held a meeting a day earlier to discuss the plan to clean up the venue as part of which the 150 members were tasked to work in small groups. She recalls BJP candidate Shankar Lalwani’s roadshow in Indore’s Pardesipura area, where his entourage had consisted of three camels, four horses, two musical bands and multiple carriages that stopped every 10 minutes to address residents. “Juice cartons and water bottles were freely distributed. Garlands were strewn around… At such roadshows, we picked whatever garbage we found on our way. The municipal corporation picked up whatever was left behind,” Patidar adds. By 9 pm, the BJP volunteers had filled six sacks with litter and left them at the entrance of the venue. It was then the turn of the Indore Municipal Corporation to take over. Half an hour later, 12 safai karamcharis entered the ground, and began by loading the garbage sacks into a mini-truck. Then, as they swept the venue, more toffee wrappers, juice cartons and Modi face-masks emerged from dark corners and underneath chairs. “I wanted to meet Modiji, but they didn’t allow us in. I would have asked him to increase our salaries,” said Laxmi Jai More, 31, among the 1,200 ragpickers in Indore employed under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan at a salary of5,940. “Earlier I would earn 500-600 a day sifting through garbage. My income has reduced,” she said. A tall broom in hand, Sallubai Arya, 31, joined her. Sunday is her day off, but she had been called in for ‘special duty’. “They cut our salary if we take extra leaves,” she said, adding that all her three children had to drop out of a private school this year due to lack of funds. Her labourer husband too has been struggling to find work. In another corner of Dussehra Maidan, Zonal Inspector Nadeem Khan supervised the removal of all BJP posters from the venue. “Since this is a public property and the rally is over, political banners are illegal. We got a complaint from the Election Commission earlier,” he said. Civic workers climbed onto branches to remove canvas banners, others peeled off posters from walls. Around 10.30 pm, a truck with over 50 banners left the venue. The posters were to be dumped at the Devguradiya trenching ground in the city’s suburbs. For the Dussehra Maidan rally, the corporation put in place other measures — plastic bottles were not allowed beyond the security check points and a single mug, instead of disposable glasses, was tied to water coolers at the venue. Inside Dussehra Maidan, there was still more to clear up. Electricians arrived to remove the floodlights, and a group of tent workers and labourers rolled up the carpets and stacked up the chairs. Helper Gokul Kasera, 16, ran around with a bunch of carnations. The Class 9 government school student, who wants to join the Army, was upset about missing the Prime Minister’s speech as he had to decorate another venue. While animatedly talking about the aerial strikes in Balakot, he said, “Modiji should improve government schools. Many of my friends have dropped out of private schools because they couldn’t afford them.” Rolling up the carpets, Anil Savarkar, 19, said his work begins at 4 am and, like today, won’t end before midnight. “I left school three years ago to help my family,” said Savarkar, who earns280 for a day’s work. However, he managed to hear the Prime Minister’s speech, and said, “If Modiji continues for another five years, my family says our situation will improve.”
Behind the stage, Musheer Ahmed, 35, detached wires and unscrewed the six air-conditioners used during the rally. He has been fasting for Ramzan, and has only had a glass of water since the rally ended. “I have no interest in politics, they all just blame each other,” said Ahmed. Returning to work, he added that he wanted to join the police force. “I tried for three years, I wanted to serve the country… I also have three National Cadet Corps certificates.”
By 11 pm, the dozen cleaners finished sweeping the ground, and by midnight, almost four hours after the PM’s rally ended, the venue was completely scrubbed clean. For a final touch, the Indore Municipal Corporation cleaners were to check the venue in the morning for any remaining litter.
But for the sweepers and labourers, another long night was ahead. “Tomorrow there is Priyanka Gandhi’s rally. We will have to continue to work extra hours till the elections end,” said Prem Kode, 22, one of the 12 safai karamcharis, packing up for the night.

Courtesy: Indian Express

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