RAMESH PARMAR, 27, died on the evening of December 23, two days after he had taken rat poison at the Goregaon west ward office of the BMC, where he worked as a safai kamgar (conservancy worker) with the Solid
Waste Management (SWM) Department. He had been on the job for two years, employed in place of his late father, working through the pandemic period. He died not having received his salary even once. Ramesh Parmar’s cousin says: “The BMC officials harassed him, treated him badly. They would shout at him for even asking for his salary.”
After Parmar died, the BMC released a cheque of Rs 1 lakh as immediate relief. A preliminary inquiry by the BMC showed that Parmar had not received his salary due to negligence of officials. Three of them were subsequently suspended.
Mumbai generates around 7,000 metric tonnes of garbage daily. The BMC has around 31,000 conservancy staff like Parmar who are an essential part of managing this waste. They are employed as sweepers, garbage loaders, mukadams (who keep check) and others.
Parmar had studied till Class 10 in a Gujarati-medium school in Mumbai. He and younger brother Kalpesh lived in a rented house in Janata Colony, a Dalit-dominant settlement touching the Western Express Highway in Jogeshwari East, with both their parents dead.
Parmar’s father Jagdish Parmar had worked as a conservancy worker with the SWM Department for about 30 years when he died at the age of 54 on September 4, 2019, still at work in a flooded street of Goregaon area. The service rules of the SWM Department dictate that a family member be appointed to replace an employee who dies at work, and Parmar stepped into his father’s shoes on September 9, 2019.
Partially disabled, having been born with a condition that left his hands underdeveloped and bent towards his body, Parmar was first given the task of sweeping in the Goregaon area. However, he couldn’t manage and was then posted at the SWM office.
Parmar’s elder sister Sheetal said: “Throughout Covid, Ramesh would go to the office regularly. When trains were shut last year (during the lockdown), he walked all the way to office from home (a distance of about 5 km).”
As per the probe conducted by the BMC, on August 31, 2020, an audit officer from the P-south ward where Parmar was employed raised a few queries related to his service record. This was never resolved, and Parmar kept waiting for his salary of about Rs 28,000 a month.
The family says Parmar was also upset over his father’s pending service dues like Provident Fund. As per rules, the money should have come to Parmar, as his mother is not alive, Sheetal, the elder sister, is married, and he was older than his brother.
Says Sheetal: “Why were our father’s service funds not released in two years? Whenever Ramesh asked for an update on our father’s file, the officials told him it was ‘in progress’… They also kept telling him his service file had been sent to seniors. Recently he got to know that nothing had been done. On the day he drank the poison, he had again asked about the status of his file.”
Cousin Mahendra says: “Many a time he broke down in the office and requested officers to clear at least his father’s dues.”
The officials suspended, pending a detailed departmental inquiry, include administrative officer Anita Naik, clerk Pankaj Khillare and head clerk Samira Manjrekar.
“We have filed a complaint with the SWM Department for the pending dues of a few other staff…,” said Milind Ranade of the Kachara Vahtuk Shramik Sangh, a union of conservancy workers.
Dr Sangeeta Hasnale, Deputy Municipal Commissioner, SWM, told The Indian Express that all the pending dues of Parmar’s father would be cleared in a week. “The audit team of the BMC is scrutinising his service documents and the report is expected. The civic body will introduce changes to resolve issues related to conservancy workers,” Hasnale said, adding that punishing staff can’t be the only solution.
After Parmar’s death, a protest was held by conservancy workers over delays in payments and salaries.
Mahendra says after consuming poison, Parmar had called up Sheetal. “She called us frantically to look for him. After searching for a few hours, we found him near the Jogeshwari Railway Station, lying unconscious.”
Parmar was first taken to the Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Centre in Jogeshwari East. After his condition started deteriorating, the doctors advised he be moved to KEM Hospital in Parel, where he died.
Demanding that the three officials face charges and prison, Sheetal says: “My brother died after he lost hope. He was broken due to the delay.”
Apart from offering the family Rs 1 lakh, the BMC offered Parmar’s brother his job. On December 24, Kalpesh, 23, got the offer letter from the SWM Department.