Dhani Ram is tasked to handle biomedical waste. (HT Photo)
After four hours of picking up piles of garbage bags and sorting waste, 47-year-old Dhani Ram, a sanitation worker with East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC), takes a break to smoke a bidi. He sits on the side of a pavement, unties his plastic cap, removes his mask, and the struggles to pull off his gloves.
“It takes a while to remove all this. Even my glasses get foggy inside this suit. We are not used to so much protection,” Ram laughed.
A contractual sanitation workers with the municipality for over seven years now, apart from his normal routine, Ram has now been tasked to handle biomedical waste from hospitals and the houses of people who have been home quarantined by the administration.
Every other day, Ram and another colleague get dressed in their protective gear and head out to collect the waste from marked houses and hospitals in the vicinity. Their instructions are that the bags of garbage kept outside these places are to be picked up, put in a sack, sealed, and in no circumstances should this waste or other discarded masks that they find be handled without gloves.
With more people working from home because of a nationwide lockdown, his work has increased. When the municipalities started stepping up action in view of the increasing number of Covid-19 infections in the city, EDMC officials tasked private contractors to employ their “best workers” to pick up waste from the houses that have been quarantined. “I am proud that I was chosen. I believe in giving my best at whatever job I do. If you’re a doctor be the best doctor, if you’re a garbage collector, be the best one,” he said, showing pictures on his mobile phone of an award got from EDMC last year for being among the best at his job.
As Ram finishes his smoke, he shows a small tear on his plastic overalls, which he has stuck together with a tape. He needs to handle his suit with care because a new one is only given out once every three days.
Talking about incidents of violence against some front-line workers across the country, Ram says that it upsets him to see that people can nurture anger against those who are risking their own lives to control the infection. “Last week, a young boy crossed me when I was walking towards my vehicle, he smiled at me and said ‘thank you’,” Ram said.