Even when the the Greater Chennai Corporation were certain that the workers and the unions representing them would rise in protest, the civic body pushed ahead with its plan to privatise garbage collection and removal at eight zones that were newly added to the city. The move, which comes at a stiff bill of more than Rs 1,500 crore for the five-year contract period, has already faced hurdles that delayed the next step by a month but the authorities are steadfast and want to go ahead with the plan.
The civic body had floated tenders inviting private firms to take over garbage collection and removal (conservancy) works in added zones of Chennai Corporation such as Tiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram, Ambattur, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Perungudi and Sholinganallur. The works at Tiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram and Ambattur would be carried out by a private firm at a cost of Rs 744.79 crore for five years, while Rs 801.20 crore has been earmarked for Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Perungudi and Sholinganallur zones. Together, these two packages will cost the exchequer Rs 1,525 crore.
As expected, this led to protests by the trade unions of Chennai Corporation, who came together under the umbrella Federation of Associations against Privatisation in Chennai Corporation and staged various agitations. This forced the civic body to postpone the opening of bids, which was scheduled during the last week of October, by a month. Now, it is learnt that the civic body has further postponed the opening of bids to December 7.
The conservancy workers, especially those who are working on daily wage and contract basis, are apprehensive that they would lose their jobs once private firms took over the works. “If the Corporation privatise conservancy works, many would lose their jobs. The private company would not pay minimum wage to workers,” alleged P Srinivasalu, general secretary of Chennai Corporation Redflag Union.
But, the officials are firm in their decision, pointing out that it was a policy decision of the State government. “All conservancy workers, except the ‘notorious’ ones, will get jobs with private firms. The companies cannot import workers, they will do conservancy works by utilising present temporary workers,” a senior official said.
Asked about the fate of permanent workers, the official said that all of them would be transferred to Tondiarpet, Royapuram, Thiru Vi Ka Nagar and Anna Nagar zones, where the Corporation would conduct conservancy works. “Temporary workers in those zones will be appointed to private firms,” the official added. Privatisation of conservancy works in not a new idea for the city — the works at Kodambakkam, Teynampet and Adyar zones were already privatised, where Ramky Enviro Engineers are carrying out the works.
The decision has evoked a mixed reaction from the residents, a major stakeholder. “Presently the private company in Kodambakkam zone is doing a good job in removing garbage. It will be better if the works are privatised, as we can hold the private company accountable. We could not contact government officials easily,” said VS Jayaraman, a member of T Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association and a resident of T Nagar, where Ramky is doing the work.
But, the residents of Alandur zone, which is one of the zones where conservancy work will go to private hands, expressed concerns that they would lose control if the works are privatised. “In our locality, the Corporation has been carrying out regular conservancy works. Residents will lose their control over the process, as we would not be able to contact the private company easily. On the other hand, we concerned Corporation officials were always available for contact if the works weren’t carried out ptoperly,” said Augustine David, president, Federation of Adambakkam Welfare Association.
Meanwhile, Arappor Iyakkam, the NGO that unearthed major scams in road and stormwater drain works, panned the move, charging that it is being done to swindle the public money. Jayaram Venkatesan, the convenor of the NGO said, “The privatisation decisions are not taken for efficiency but for looting money. As the tenders are already fixed, it is another attempt to make money.” He also pointed out that the temporary workers are paid less in violation of the Labour law. “If the works are privatised, it will be a violation of laws. The Corporation wants every work to be outsourced,” he added.
Corporation warns workers of losing jobs if they protest
Being stringent against the workers who are protesting privatisation of conservancy works, the Chennai Corporation warned them of termination if they continued with their agitation.
Chennai Corporation Commissioner D Karthikeyan sent an official circular in this regard on Monday, a day before the conservancy workers announced an indefinite strike.
“Officials should take action against the permanent workers who participate in strike and demonstrations according to the rules of the Chennai Corporation. NULM and NMR daily wage labours should be terminated from their work if they fail to sign the attendance registers and new temporary employees should be appointed to continue the conservancy works,” the circular said.
A protesting worker said, “When even the Corporation is issuing authoritarian circulars against temporary workers, one can imagine how private companies would treat us.”
Following the circular, the Federation of Associations against Privatisation in Chennai Corporation had called off their indefinite strike on Tuesday. “We are now discussing with the office bearers about the next course of action,” P Srinivasalu, general secretary of Chennai Corporation Redflag Union, said.
According to the circular, there would be no impact on permanent conservancy workers even after the privatisation. “Temporary workers will be hired by the potential private companies and daily minimum wages, which has been fixed by the district collector, will be ensured,” the circular stated.