Joining the list of corona warriors bearing the brunt of being on duty during the pandemic are pourakarmikas. Random testing by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has revealed that 23 pourakarmikas are positive for COVID-19.

During a video message on Saturday, BBMP Commissioner B.H. Anil Kumar informed that 23 of 94 pourakarmikas checked had tested positive for COVID-19. “They are being provided treatment and all necessary medical help,” he said.

Pourakarmikas, unseen despite being the hands that keep the city clean, have had to deal with new kinds of hazardous waste since the pandemic outbreak. Though BBMP officials have maintained that they have been instructed to not touch biomedical waste, questions have been raised over the safety of pourakarmikas who have been working with all kinds of waste without basic safety gear, such as masks and gloves.

Clifton D’Rozario from the BBMP Pourakarmikara Sangha alleged that the civic body’s random testing too was the result of pressure after the death of a pourakarmika in Deepanjalinagar due to COVID-19. “We have been repeatedly saying that they are vulnerable and they need to be given protective gear like PPE kits,” he said.

Maitreyi Krishnan from the Sangha added that gloves and masks are being provided, but the masks are the disposable ones, which were given over a month ago. “Unless segregation of waste is enforced, this will continue. Masks are being thrown into the waste despite the BBMP’s rule against doing so. All equipment has to be disinfected. Who is cleaning containment zones? Even the insurance cover, which was announced, was never implemented,” she alleged.

K.B. Obalesh, member of the Karnataka State Manual Scavenging Monitoring Committee under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, has sought issuance of strict directions to all Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to provide all protective and life-saving equipment to pourakarmikas.

“We had warned against this possibility in our letter dated May 15 to the Director of Directorate of Municipal Administration (DMA). In the same letter, we had described how in Pavagada taluk, Tumakuru, pourakarmikas were being made to clean areas put under quarantine because of the spread of COVID-19, without providing minimal protective equipment. In its circulars, DMA had informed officials of ULBs regarding provision of protective equipment and creating necessary awareness among pourakarmikas. But many officials didn’t take these required steps. Till today, pourakarmikas are not being provided face masks and other protective gear of good and usable quality,” he said.

Clip sparks outrage

Meanwhile, a video of a resident shouting at a pourakarmika for coming near the gate to ask for drinking water has been doing the rounds on social media. In the video, the resident can be seen bringing a bottle of water while asking three pourakarmikas to stay away from the radius of her house gate. “If you come close, will we not get corona?” she is heard telling the pourakarmikas, who take the bottle of water.

The clip caused outrage among many citizens and civic workers who urged people to treat corona warriors with respect.

Social distancing drive

Police personnel along with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) marshals conducted a mask and social distancing awareness drive, and shut shops where owners were not following safety norms. Such drives were conducted in R.T. Nagar, Hanumanthanagar, Kumaraswamy Layout, Subramanyapura, HSR Layout and Basaveshwaranagar among other areas.

Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao on Saturday urged operators of shops, malls, banks, hotels, offices and other commercial establishments to follow the rules, failing which police would initiate legal action.

Traffic Management Centre sealed

After an employee working at the Traffic Management Centre on Infantry Road tested positive, the office was sanitised and sealed.

B.R. Ravikanthe Gowda., joint commissioner of police (traffic), said it will be sealed till June 30. It will function with minimum staff.

Meanwhile, after two police personnel – one at Suddagunte Palya and another at Madiwala stations – tested positive, both the premises were sanitised.

Earlier on Friday, Bengaluru city police commissioner’s office was sealed and will remain so till June 29.

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