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Mada strike triggers epidemic threat

Festive Dhanbad city, stinking neighbouring towns.

That was the sorry state of Dhanbad district as around 600 sanitation employees of civic body Mineral Area Development Authority (Mada), who started striking from October 8, continued with it throughout Durga Puja. With garbage not picked up for 16 days at a stretch, over 20 lakh people of Jharia, Chas, Putki, Nirsa and Govindpur are dangerously vulnerable to manmade epidemics of dengue, typhoid, dysentery and others.

Dhanbad city, cleaned by its municipal corporation, was spared mounds of roadside garbage, clogged drains breeding mosquitoes, rodents foraging amid filth and all-pervasive stench.

Most of the 1,800-odd Mada employees have been hard-pressed for salaries since the civic body’s income from taxes was hijacked by the state.

But its sanitation workers are worst hit. At the onset of October, their salaries were pending for 20 months.

During Durga Puja, they received a month’s salary that got cleared on October 22.

That did not thaw employees. Mada employees also prevented workers of Dhanbad Municipal Corporation — both civic bodies are in the process of a thorny merger — from cleaning up.

“Our workers were beaten up by Mada employees,” rued councillor of ward No. 37 Anup Sao in Jharia. On a conciliatory note, he added: “Demands of sanitation workers deprived of 19 months of salary are justified.”

“We invited sanitation workers for talks but they refused to receive our letter. Yet, they withdrew one month’s salary and Rs 500 deposited in their bank accounts. This shows double standards. But we will again initiate talks,” Mada MD Amrendra Trivedi said.

Workers, however, are not budging from their stand.

“How can anyone expect us to work when we received only a month’s wages?” asked Ganga Balmiki, general secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Safai Mazdoor Sangh. “Authorities must give us written assurance that they will pay our dues within a month or two.”

But these delays pose a real danger to 20 lakh residents.

“The clock is ticking,” warned eminent cardiologist N.K. Singh, also associated with NGO Dhanbad Action Group. “There is a strong possibility of typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea and jaundice. Water-logging in drains may lead to breeding of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and widespread dengue,” he added.

Dhanbad civil surgeon Sashi Bhushan Prasad said he was worried about gastro-enteritis and typhoid.

“Mounds of garbage are growing bigger. Sprinkling DDT or bleaching powder is not an alternative to clearing garbage,” Prasad said.

Echoing sentiments, Mada sanitary inspector (Jharia) Kalimuddin Ansari called the situation in his town “dangerous”. “In Jharia itself, around 400 tractors of garbage are rotting in 56 dustbins. Mosquitoes and rodents breeding. But we are helpless,” he said.