The Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought to know from the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) the total number of face masks, hand gloves, hand sanitizers procured and the cost paid for procuring each of these items. Court has also asked the civic body to disclose how often these masks, gloves etc are replenished.
Justice SJ Kathawalla was hearing a writ petition filed by Samaj Samata Kamgaar Sangh, a union representing the 6277 workers working for NMMC seeking directions to the civic body to ensure protective gear like masks etc. is provided to these workers who fight the pandemic of Covid-19 on the frontlines everyday. Petitioners alleged that apart from "providing low quality face masks and hand gloves on one occasion", the Corporation has not provided any protective gear to the workers.
Advocate Bhavesh Parmar instructed by Gravitas Legal appeared for the petitioner and submitted that out of the said 6277 workers, 3261 workers are involved in Solid Waste Management including day-to-day road cleaning and transportation of garbage. The petition states-
"They are compelled to handle garbage and solid waste with bare hands and are not provided with any water to clean their hands and feet throughout the day. They are only provided with 2-3 drops of hand sanitizers at the Hazeri Shade before they start working and 2 drops at the end of their shift."
Moreover, about 693 workers are employed in the health department, which includes duties at four Corporation run hospitals and 23 Urban Health Posts across Navi Mumbai. About 65 workers are employed on cemetery cleaning duty.
Parmar submitted that despite the workers discharging essential services and having been regularly reporting to work at their respective stations, they are not provided with any protection from Covid-19 virus such as hand sanitizers, hand gloves, face masks, PPEs etc. Consequently, the lackadaisical approach of NMMC and its Commissioner has led to a few positive cases of Covid-19 among the workers of the Union while over 24 persons are placed under home quarantine and at quarantine centres.
Court was informed that the petitioner Union has addressed several letters to the Municipal Commissioner of NMMC and the Deputy Commissioner, Solid Waste Management, requesting them to look into the problems faced by these workers, but no response was received.
Finally, when the Deputy Commissioner, Solid Waste Management visited some of the Hazeri Shades, he noted that the problems of the workers were real and grave and needed to be addressed at the earliest. However,no action is taken thereafter by the NMMC.
Also, in a notification dated April 7, 2020, NMMC had observed that since transportation facilities were shut down as a result of the lockdown, its workers found it diffcult to travel to their work stations. Additionally, it was observed that the workers were unable to arrange for food as all eateries and restaurants were shut. Thus, a daily allowance of Rs.300 to the workers and employees of NMMC was sanctioned.
However, the said amount is not paid to 6277 workers on the ground as they are contractual labourers, Parmar told the Court.
Advocate Sandip Marne appeared on behalf of the Corporation. After taking instructions, he submitted that all personal protective equipments including hand gloves, face masks and hand sanitizers are being provided from time to time to all the workers.
When Justice Kathawalla inquired as to when the protective equipments were last provided to the workers, Advocate marne sought time to take instructions.
Finally, Court directed NMMC to file an affidavit setting out the number of face masks, hand gloves, hand sanitizers which were in their possession prior to the announcement of the lockdown, the subsequent additions thereto, along with detailed break up of the distribution carried out from time to time till date.
NMMC shall also inform the Court the names and addresses of the individuals/firms from whom the said equipment are purchased and at what price. Additionally, NMMC must place the findings of the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Solid Waste Management when he visited the Hazeri shades, on record.
The matter has been kept for hearing on May 14 at 11:30 am
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