Need experiences related to the status of conservancy staff in municipal sanitation

From Aparna Das, UNDP, New Delhi
Posted 11 January 2007

Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, large investments are to be made for modernizing and upgrading sewage and solid waste management facilities in cities (See for details).

Within a municipality, an average of 50-60% staff members are engaged in conservancy (cleaning solid waste infrastructure) activities. Traditionally there is much politics associated with their recruitment and they are never part of the mainstream municipal staff. There is also a general feeling that since they “eat away” a large proportion of municipal resources, it is advisable to reduce their numbers. Consequently, many municipalities have begun outsourcing these services.

A comparative look at the socio-economic status of the conservancy staff and mainstream staff members reflect a stark contrast. Most conservancy staff generally belongs to a specific set of communities known traditionally for conservancy work, are heavily into debt and affected by various diseases. Additionally, even in big cities, conservancy staff continues to take up solid waste management in an undignified manner, using primitive tools and implements, which expose them to health hazards on a regular basis. Manual scavenging also continues to be practiced even in states where officially it is claimed to have been abolished.

However, current discussions on how the Municipal reforms are to be implemented concentrate on technological and other demand side issues and completely ignore the concerns related to staff at the lowest level engaged in taking up solid waste management services. In the above context, I request members to kindly share information and experiences on the following:

  • The status of conservancy staff in Municipalities in various parts of India
  • The health hazards and diseases that arise due to exposure to hazardous wastes and the precautions that the staff need to take to protect themselves
  • Recommended mechanisms for incorporating health protection and economic rehabilitation of conservancy staff and their dependents in the Municipal Reform process.

Members may also share innovations made in related areas to dignify the profession of conservancy staff.

Please see attachment below for the responses.