Over 300 Slum Cleaning Workers Of Scrapped SMPA Scheme Protest Outside Civic Body’s Office

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The estimated 10,000 “volunteers” in charge of slum cleanliness under the abandoned Swachh Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan (SMPA) face a bleak future, as the BMC seeks bids from contractors for its new slum cleaning project. On February 28, over 300 employees and officials from various organisations gathered at the BMC’s M East ward office to protest.

The BMC announced in December 2023 that the SMPA scheme would be ended, and in February, it solicited bids from potential companies to manage slum clearance. The local administration said that at an annual cost of INR 350 crore, 7,388 people would be hired by one contractor for each of the 26 wards.

BMC declared the SMPA scheme a failure, alleging that sanitation volunteers’ lack of accountability was the reason the programme failed to clear slums. The Dattak Vasti Yojana of 2001, which was judged a failure due to corruption, was introduced before the SMPA in 2013. Dattak Vasti Yojana was effectively renamed the SMPA, and the two plans were almost identical.

The SMPA relied on sanitation volunteers from women’s self-help groups, employment cooperatives, non-governmental organisations, and other organisations. One of the protest organisers, Sangita Kamble, expressed concern for their future. The Vasti Swachata Abhiyaan Samanvaya Samiti is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that operates in the M East Ward. She wondered what would happen to those who worked under the plan. Many of them have worked in the slums for more than 20 years.

However, the protestors agreed that there are numerous faults with the current proposal. To begin, volunteers are paid a dismal INR 5,400 per month. Furthermore, due to their technical classification as “volunteers,” they are not entitled to any job benefits or protections.

Furthermore, the organisations are only paid INR 600 per volunteer each month for administrative fees such as ID cards, and they must bid on the SMPA contract every six months. The Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti and other organisations have also expressed resistance to the SMPA system, and there has long been a desire for its reform.