Private sweepers hired out of desperation to collect the mounds of garbage that have piled up in Karachi have started burning it to cut corners. The crisis developed after the city sanitation staff stopped making the rounds over a week ago over unpaid salaries.
Saddar and Lyari are particularly badly hit. “We don’t have enough budget to tackle our financial issues, including salaries,” said District Municipal Corporation South Administrator Muhammad Raeesi. “Lyari is Karachi’s only town with more employees than revenue.”
Raeesi said that the finance department had cut 30% of the town’s budget, as 10% is being given to the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation. “We are receiving just Rs25 million monthly but our salaries come to Rs35 million,” he said. “We earn just Rs20 million annually from Lyari while the revenue of Saddar town is Rs30 million monthly.”
Raeesi said that provincial government was providing Lyari a special grant. He promised the workers would be paid in a few days. The Rs50 million that Karachi administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed had announced for garbage collection in each town have not been disbursed yet.
“It is not only Lyari but most towns and other districts are facing same sort of financial issues,” he said. He could not explain why the provincial government was cutting funds of municipal corporations across the province.
But as people burn trash, including plastics, smoke and toxic gases are released into their neighbourhoods. “We can’t afford this spreading everywhere in the street. I burn it because it will not make my house dirty again,” justified Zulekhan, a resident of Kalri, Lyari.
Almost all garbage collection points are filled to the brim in Lyari. A big heap of trash has been burning since Friday on Hingorabad Road, just 300 meters away from Sindh Assembly’s lawmaker, Dr Saleem Hingoro’s residence.
“We understand that garbage heaps are creating troubles for people and the environment but how can a worker continue his job when he is not being paid,” said the chairman of the Municipal Workders Trader Union Alliance, Syed Zulfiqar Shah.
“Our workers will also face health problems when they’ll collect mounds of garbage after going back to work.”
Most of the residents have been throwing garbage in plastic bags outside their houses or on roads. Motorcyclists and pedestrians even spread it wider. “I have had a headache since last night due to this smoke and smell,” said Saleem Bhai, who runs a paan cabin near a garbage collection point in Khadda Market.
Yousuf Raza from Agra Taj Colony said that this was not the first time that people of Lyari were burning garbage. “The sanitation workers are on strike this time but they don’t collect and sweep the place properly because of the law and order situation either,” he explained. “You won’t see a single tree in our area.”
The director-general of the Environmental Protection Agency, Sindh, (SEPA), Rafiuddin, pointed out that aside from people, the city staff also routinely burns garbage. SEPA warned the Karachi Municipal Corporation to follow the Environment Protection Law 1997 and dispose of waste properly.
with additional reporting by PPI
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2012.