Mr. G Mathi Vathanan

Mr. G Mathi Vathanan was appointed as both the Commissioner and Secretary of the Department of Housing & Urban Development, Government of Odisha, in 2014. Since taking on this leadership position, he has focused on strengthening inclusion in sanitation services, and is grateful to his team for showing commitment and zeal in transforming Odisha’s urban development landscape.

The launch of the Odisha Urban Sanitation Policy followed by strong implementation of Odisha Urban Septage Management Guidelines issued in 2016, and Model Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Regulations issued in 2018 by the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have ensured inclusive progress for the sanitation sector in the state. The combined efforts by the state have focused on strengthening sanitation workers who play a critical role in the upkeep and maintenance of sanitation systems.

The state demonstrated a strong political will to come up with a comprehensive scheme to transform the lives of core sanitation workers and their families. They set out with the objective to tackle the social stigma and discrimination experienced by sanitation workers, and address the minimal compensation they receive.

"Our conviction to change the poignant state of affairs of core sanitation workers in the society drove us to relentlessly work towards bringing sustainable impact on their lives by providing them a more dignified existence"

However, Mr. Mathi believes there is substantial progress to be made to ensure their safety and dignity. The state, under Mr. Mathi’s leaderships has been working relentlessly to see that various components of the new GARIMA scheme are implemented and the benefits reach the workers across the cities of Odisha.

The Garima Scheme

 

GARIMA is a scheme that was designed for the safety and dignity of core sanitation workers in 2020. It has played a key role in ensuring that sanitation systems are functioning without any challenges. This scheme provides several welfare measures to core sanitation workers who deal with faecal matters directly while working at community and public toilets, wastewater treatment plants, cleaning drains, and during operation & maintenance of confined spaces like septic tanks and sewer lines.

Under Mr. Mathi’s leadership, with support from Urban Management Centre, the GARIMA scheme was initiated through a consultative process that brought together relevant stakeholders, sector experts, leading community representatives and voices who have been at the forefront of this agenda to enable dignified livelihoods for sanitation workers.

LEADERSHIP THAT ENSURED SAFE SANITATION IN THE PANDEMIC

The working conditions and social status of sanitation workers had been a cause of concern for the Odisha government even before the pandemic had hit the State. There was a lack of access to adequate and quality PPE kits to protect workers from injuries and diseases, and an absence of any formal training to enhance their capacity and skills.

As the pandemic set in, the situation for many of the sanitation workers worsened with the added risk of contracting the virus, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. The informal sanitation workers were hit the hardest, and many of them had lost their jobs while the rest were suffering a reduction in wages.

"In an effort to alleviate the financial miseries of sanitation workers, we issued a notification during the onset of the pandemic that sanitation workers should not be subjected to deduction in salaries for the period of their absence owing to COVID-19 infection or restrictions. We also prioritised vaccination of sanitation workers to protect them from the deadly health hazards that trail the disease"

Access to adequate and suitable PPE kits and other equipment has been a priority to the state throughout the ongoing pandemic. Under the leadership of Mr. Mathi, his department identified PPE kits required for each type of core sanitation work and shared this information with ULBs (Urban Local Bodies), urging them procure them immediately. The workers struggled to carry PPE kits, change and clean them, especially when the community and public toilets with bathrooms were shut down due to COVID restrictions. “To address this issue, we have begun the process of establishing GARIMA rest sheds or lounges with space for the workers to rest, lockers for storing PPE and dedicated space for cleaning themselves and the PPE that they wear”, said Mr. Mathi.

He believes that existing regulations and guidelines present a strong footing and ample opportunities for all local authorities to work towards ensuring the welfare of sanitation workers. Hence, to ensure implementation of the schemes and benefits targeted towards vulnerable sanitation workers, an empathetic and sensitive approach is needed. Convergence and cross-learning is the key towards working with line departments to introduce worker-friendly policies, with private sector players to identify user-centric PPE kits and with sectoral experts to impart training on critical issues like manual entry into confined spaces.

The Housing and Urban Development Department has been able to initiate systemic changes and restructure its systems and processes to establish Emergency Response Sanitation Units. Adopting national advisories and contextualising them as per state needs is critical to ensure better implementation at the ground level.

Going Forward

 

 

Mr. Mathi believes that we need to leverage the synergies of different stakeholders to ensure that sanitation workers get to access their rights and entitlements. However, to ensure that every sanitation worker is able to access their rights, the first step is to identify and register them.

“We have developed robust processes to enumerate sanitation workers and provide them a unique Garima ID”, ”, said Mr. G Mathivathanan.

He highlighted sanitation workers are battling the dominant societal mindset that neglects the roles of employers in ensuring workers are safe and dignified. Through his leadership, he plans to continuously engage with private contractors, encouraging them to adopt model contracts to ensure that workers find an enabling occupational environment and are able to access their rights at the workplace to be safe and lead a dignified life.


National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Alliance

The National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Alliance is a collaborative body, convened in 2016 and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working with governments and decision-makers across the country at national, state and city levels to drive safe and sustainable urban sanitation in India.

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