Tonnes and tonnes of biomedical waste emanating from hundreds of hospitals across Kerala since Thursday have not been disposed yet since the collectors are on an indefinite strike over pay hike.
The contagious and hazardous waste, which includes infectious material, body parts, cotton, syringes and needles, have been kept in dirty utility rooms and inside hospital premises.
The biomedical waste is now threatening the health of those in the hospitals as well as people living nearby.
According to Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling Rules), 1998, no untreated waste can be kept stored beyond 48 hours. Kerala produces more than 30 tonnes of biomedical waste per day.
IMAGE, the lone organisation that handles the disposal of the hazardous waste, said the waste collectors on strike work for two sub-contractors.
“The employees are demanding exorbitant pay hike which is neither viable nor affordable,” IMAGE chairman C.K. Chandrasekharan said.
He said though IMAGE owned the waste disposal plant, it has entrusted GJ Multiclave India Private Ltd and Scrap India for collection of biomedical waste from hospitals across Kerala.
Both the organisations employ 300 people for waste collection.
“It is up to them to look into the salary aspects of their employees,” said Chandrasekharan.
Kerala chapter of the Indian Medical Association manages IMAGE.
Chandrasekharan said the issue needed to be resolved immediately. Otherwise, the waste may create health hazards, he said.
“We have informed the ministers concerned, the labour secretary and the labour commissioner. Though GJ Multiclave (the sub-contractor) has agreed to give a salary hike of Rs.2,000, the workers are demanding a hike of Rs.6,000,” said Chandrasekharan.
The collectors are paid paltry salaries, said a coordinator working for IMAGE. “We are paid very little salary for our work. Most of the workers are getting less than Rs.6,000 per month.”
But an official of GJ Multiclave said no decision has been taken on the demands of the workers.
“We are discussing with trade union leaders to find an amicable solution. They are demanding 50-70 per cent hike in salaries. We hope we can resume operations by tomorrow (Saturday),” said Jayaraj of the company.
However, an official of Medical Trust hospital in Kochi said accumulation of biomedical waste was causing a serious problem. “If the strike continues, it will have an adverse affect on the health of the patients.”
Kerala’s Minister for Urban Affairs Manjalamkuzhi Ali admitted to IndiaToday.in that he came to know about the strike when this reporter contacted him for comments.
“It’s the responsibility of IMAGE to remove the waste from the hospitals. We will issue immediate directions to the health department to find a solution. Kerala is depending on only one plant run by IMAGE at Kanjikode in Palakkad for disposing the waste. The problems of employees should be addressed immediately,” he said.
Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar was however unavailable for comments.