India’s rapid evolution post-independence, into one of the largest economies in the world today, has a lot to do with contributions from every segment of our society. In retrospect, it would perhaps not be incorrect to state that over the bygone decades, we have been successful in pushing several million Indians out of the lower layers of the existing societal strata. Yet, if there has been any inaction on our part to take up administrative reform securing the valid interests of one particular group of people – it has been our sanitation workers. Neglect and apathy towards sanitation workers – who shoulder the herculean task of keeping our towns and cities spick-and-span – has for long been the norm. In recent years, our news panels have been flooded with the tragic stories of deaths of ‘manual scavengers’- ones who help clean the gutters, sewer lines, and the like. The Hindu reports that in 2019 alone, 110 such workers were killed due to absent safety standards during their job. They have lived in marginalization. This should prick our collective conscience that despite standing in the cusp of modernity, our society has failed them for so long.
I appreciate the GARIMA scheme which has been launched under the astute leadership of Odisha’s Hon’ble Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik ji. Keeping the core sanitation workers and their needs in mind, the scheme shall act as a supportive pillar in their lives. This decision is certainly a pioneering effort in both its extent and magnitude. As an added plus, GARIMA shall cover not only the sanitation workers, but also their families by providing them with financial support, access to healthcare facilities, and administrative aid wherever necessary. The nitty-gritty has already been worked out, and by credible estimates, the plan shall initially extend immediate benefits to around one lakh people. On the administrative side, Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), retirement benefits and post-retirement pensions have been prioritised for these workers and their families. An initial corpus of ₹50 crores has also been sanctioned by the state government, which will help further the cause. Of course, this is the beginning. In the future, I am certain that the scheme shall be extended to cover all sanitation workers in the state, who may at present have been left out of its ambit. My idea is that it is crucial to begin with whatever is at hand. While the wrongs of the past cannot be wholly eradicated, it is upon our hands to effect whatever changes we possibly can because future is in our hands. I am hopeful and confident that GARIMA shall bring about a definitive transformation in the lives of our sanitation workers.