Ludhiana's migrant workforce struggling with waste problem, feels ignored in poll season

Abhay Kumar Jha, 36, jumps over a puddle of filthy water as he moves around the Dhandari Khurd area inhabited mostly by migrant workers who power the industries of this city.

Around 20 metres from his dwelling, he stops near a large heap of garbage, most of it plastic that chokes gutters, and takes out his mobile phone to show the complaints he made to the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation.

Jha, originally from Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, has been living in the city for more than 20 years. He owns a 400-sq ft house, located at the edge of a knee-deep swamp of filthy water and waste, in the area.

As he points at the mounds of garbage running from one end of the street to another, Jha claims that in the last quarter, he made over 10 complaints, urging the municipal corporation to clean the sewers choked by trash and to set up a waste disposal site in the area, but to no avail.

"It's an approved colony. We pay taxes for our property, water, and sewerage. Still, nobody takes note of our issues. Private sanitation workers charge up to Rs 5,000 for cleaning the gutters and collect the waste, which we cannot afford," he says.

Jha says most of the people living in the area belong to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and work in the cycle and textile industries of Ludhiana.

"Barring a few who go to their villages occasionally, most of us live in the locality round-the-year. Those who are registered as voters here do not miss out on voting," the lanky man says as he enters another lane.

Posters of candidates contesting polls from the constituency dot the walls of houses in the locality, but residents say politicians have not made a single visit to the area.

Shanti Tara, 30, who hails from Gorakhpur, says, "Not a single person has come to us to ask for votes. Maybe, that's because only around 20 per cent of the total 15,000 people in the area are registered as voters. So, the candidates think we do not matter."

Standing outside her house, Roshini Devi, 48, says, "Every summer, a number of people die of diseases like diarrhea, dengue, and malaria in the locality, but I am not sure if government data reflect these deaths."

She complains that toxic waste is affecting the water quality in the area. "The water turns green. It becomes clearer only after we keep the tap open for three-four hours."

Another resident of the area, Asha Yadav, 33, says the locality lacks a proper drainage system, though it came into existence in 1996.

"People in the area spend from their pockets to get the gutters cleaned. In the monsoon, it becomes a living hell. My children face a lot of trouble going to school on rainy days," she says.

Yadav claims political parties have been keeping off the area and not a single politician came to them seeking votes.

"It is as if we do not matter to them at all. The people are so disappointed that they are considering boycotting the polls," she claims.

Local Akali Dal MLA, Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, claims he undertook sewerage work in the area, but the change of government stalled the process.

"Earlier, the condition was even worse. Whatever work has been done, it's because of me. The Congress did not spend a single penny on the development of the area," he says.

"I undertook the work of laying sewer lines, but the change of government stalled it. We tried putting pressure on the municipal corporation too. Our councillor had even resigned. I, myself, staged protests, but nothing happened," Dhillon says.

"MLAs don't get any fund for undertaking development works. I accept the people in that area are living in a pathetic condition... but I do not have funds," he says.

Under the MLALAD scheme, introduced in December 1993, a legislator can sanction up to Rs 2 crore per year for public works in his or her area.

Questioned on the issue, Ludhiana Mayor Balkar Singh says, "It's been only a year that I assumed the charge. The previous SAD-BJP government did not leave a penny in the treasury. The city is replete with problems. We are dealing with them one by one."

"It took us some time to revive the corporation. The employees were not reporting for duty as they were not paid for three years. First, we paid their salary. I do not say that people are lying. I know the condition is very bad, but we have been making efforts to resolve all issues," he says.