This is the first part of an investigative story on the continuous breaching of government rules of employment in both the city corporations of Dhaka
Just after dawn, 13-year-old Hanif Badsha was collecting garbage using a shovel from the street and throwing that into a waste container on Pioneer road, in front of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) office in Shegunbagicha, Dhaka. Hanif came to Dhaka Tribune’s attention in late May of this year.
His job is to collect garbage from the street all day with only brief intervals. At the end of each evening, Hanif is very tired every day, without any days off.
According to Labor Law 2006, no children under the age of 14 can be employed as labourers. Hanif’s job as a street cleaner is a hard reality which led this correspondent to talk to him. In the course of chitchat with the boy, this correspondent discovered a startling irregularity in his demanding work.
Hanif said he works from 5am till night for a salary of only Tk500 each month.
“I have to manage my own food, so I work extra hours in the daytime to collect waste bottles, plastic etc. and sell those to earn my living,” said Hanif.
According to the documents collected from Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Hanif was not recruited by the corporation, but he has been working now for some years as a “bodli” (substitute). He was “hired” by a corporation “conservancy worker,” which is what street sweepers or cleaners are called in official city corporation records.
“It's not only me who works as a bodli, but also Ali Uddin, who introduced me to the job,” said Hanif.
When asked why he does this job for so little, Hanif said: "After my parent’s death, I did not have any other option but to work. I don’t have a home to live in, or work to eat. So, I started working as a sweeper to survive and I sleep on the street at night."
Irregularities at both city corporations
Visiting many areas of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and the DNCC, and talking to several cleaners, this Dhaka Tribune correspondent collected lists of cleaners recruited by the corporations.
There are supposedly more than 5,000 listed street cleaners working for DSCC, and around 2,700 for DNCC.
Officials at both city corporations said at least 20% to 25% listed street cleaners remain absent each day. They recruit substitute workers, paying them somewhere between Tk500 to Tk5,000 per month, a practice that has been going on for a long time now.
All the substitute workers are from impoverished areas of the country, where the poverty rate is as high as 21.8%.
The conservancy workers or street cleaners as we know them, usually do other jobs or businesses instead of doing the job assigned to them by the corporations. They are able to do this bribing the Conservancy Inspector (CI), said several of them on condition of anonymity. The CIs maintain the attendance sheet and the master roll, showing them as present every day, they added.
According to the DNCC and DSCC, each master roll contractual worker gets Tk475 to Tk500 each day, which means they get between Tk14,250 and Tk15,000 each month.
Permanent workers get between Tk15,000 and Tk26,000, along with other facilities.
According to the DSCC conservancy worker list, two conservancy workers are employed by the DSCC and assigned to Shegun Bagicha, Zone-1, Ward-20, where Hanif was working.
Suken De is assigned to cleaning the road in the morning in Shegun Bagicha, where Hanif works day and night. Another master roll employee, Iman Ali, is supposed to work evenings on the same street.
This correspondent could not find Suken De or Iman Ali, despite repeatedly visiting the place and looking for them. Rather, Hanif was working there in their place, on both the morning and evening shifts.
A cleaner who wished to remain anonymous, and works in Shajahanpur Ward 11, Zone 2, of DSCC, said this phenomenon of using substitutes is true.
"Earlier I used to work as a substitute, but was later employed by the DSCC," he said.
The same scenario prevails in many areas including DSCC Zone 2, Ward 11, where another worker who sought anonymity, was working as a hired substitute. He said he was working alone in place of three workers: Mari Amma, Kader, and Babul.
“I work for three conservancy workers as a substitute bodli. More than five years I have been doing this job and each of them pays me Tk3000 for working dawn to dusk,” said this worker.
“They don’t come to work, but they are shown present every day. They do other jobs and own businesses. Cleaner Babul has a bird shop in Thadari Bazar in old town,” he added.
'CIs take bribe'
Some of the permanent cleaners said they manage their respective Conservancy Inspectors (CI) with bribes to maintain their attendance logs.
Sometimes they take as much as Tk3,000 in bribes every month, said the unnamed bodli worker.
According to the DSCC, Babul was sacked because of a long absence from his job and Yasmin was recruited in place of him in 2018, which the bodli doesn't know.
However, Yasmin was not to be found and the substitute or bodli, is still working in her place.
Talking to locals and shopkeepers in Thadari Bazar, this correspondent found the allegations to be true. Most of them said that Babul had a shop in the market. The CI provided the substitutes with corporation uniforms so that no one questions the matter, said another substitute, on condition of anonymity.
Upon checking the DSCC cleaner list, the unnamed bodli of this story was not to be found. Rather, the names of Mari Amma and Abdul Kader names are listed as employed in July 1983, assigned to Shahjahanpur and Khilgoan Bagicha areas.
Arun Chandra, Conservancy Inspector (CI) at the Ward 11, Zone 2, DSCC, is accused of fixing the attendance sheet of the conservancy workers by taking bribe from them.
“Arun Chandra took bribe from Tk1,500 to Tk3,000 and gave their attendance on the register book,” complained that anonymous cleaner.
However, when contacted, Arun Chandra denied the allegation saying: “If anyone falls sick, his/her children used to work.”
But, he did not make any comment when said a record was with this correspondent.
The same irregularities were found in several places under DNCC jurisdiction. Md Mofiz was seen working instead of Md Rafik at Khamarbari in the Farmgate area, Ward 27 of Zone 5.
Rafik was also not seen at his assigned place of work , despite the repeated attempts of this reporter.
Similar irregularities are there at Ward 4 of Zone 2 where cleaner leader Nurul Islam Shikdar never comes to his workplace, but takes a corporation salary every month.
“They have now become leaders. It is normal that they won’t come to work,” said Forhad, a ward cleaner.
Sohag Gazi is working instead of cleaner Faruk Gazi, Ruma in place of Kohinur Begum, while Jhuma is working instead of Rahima Begum in the same ward, and the list goes on.