Regularisation of Sanitation Workers of Karnataka

A Summary of the Report for


After a historic four-day strike by powrakarmikas  (sanitation workers) across Karnataka that ended on 4th July, 2021, the Karnataka Government agreed to make their jobs permanent after setting up a committee which will include representatives of unions, including AICCTU that come up with the manner in which permanent status can be granted to Powrakarmikas. A summary of the submissions drafted by AICCTU in regard to the grant of permanent status and adopted by the unions is detailed below:


It is necessary to ensure the grant of permanent status to powrakarmikas with the following background:


  1. Reports that recommend grant of permanent status: In Karnataka, there are 3 important reports that look at the conditions of powrakarmikas
  1. The report by the Committee under the Chairmanship of Shri I.P.D. Salappa titled, “Report of the Committee on the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions of Sweepers and Scavengers” which was submitted in April 1976 in which it made several recommendations, which remain relevant even to this date and specially recommends that all Pourakarmikas who have put in service of not less than one year should be confirmed.
  2. The “Report on the Proposed Road Map and Guidelines for the Comprehensive Development of Safai Karmacharis” by the “Three member Official Committee” constituted in 2013
  3. The Report of the National Law School University of India submitted in 2021



All three reports have recommended that services of all Powrakarmikas, whether employed on daily-wage, equal pay or as contract powrakarmikas, be immediately regularized.


  1. Current workforce of Powrakarmikas is almost entirely Dalit since the profession is hereditary:

The workers are almost entirely from the Dalit (Scheduled Caste) community since this profession is heredity and caste ordained. The NLS Report found that 86.3% of the workers belong to the Madiga community. 3.9% belong to the Scheduled Tribes and a small percentage belonged to other Scheduled Caste Communities. The IPD Salappa Committee Report, notes that “As the Pourakarmikas form the lowest rungs of the social ladder, it is necessary that every effort is made to formulate comprehensive and effective measures to improve their conditions. The process of exploitation of these Pourakarmikas by the vested interests should stop forthwith.”                                                                

As such the State Government is constitutionally bound to act under Articles 15(4), 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, and 46 of the Constitution.



  1. Current employment of Powrakarmikas is an unfair labour practice:
    1. The exploitative terms under which the Powrakarmikas including sweepers, drivers, cleaners, loaders, UGD workers, etc. are working is also an unfair labour practice which is prohibited under section 25T r/w Entry 10 of the Fifth Schedule of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
    2. The Supreme Court in Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation and Anr. v. Casteribe Rajya Parivahan Karamchari Sanghatana [(2009) 8 SCC 556] has, relying on Section 25T and 25U of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, held that:

“Employing badlis, casuals or temporaries and to continue them as such for years, with the object of depriving them of the status and privileges of permanent employees is an unfair labour practice on the part of the employer under Item 6 of Schedule IV.”


  1. The State Government and ULBs are bound by the judgements granting permanent status to contract powrakarmikas:
    1. The employment of Powrakarmikas on contract was challenged by the contract Powrakarmikas in Mumbai, resulting in the Award of the Industrial Tribunal directing the Mumbai Municipal Corporation to treat 2700 contract Powrakarmikas as permanent employees of the Corporation and to extend them the benefits and status of permanent workers retrospectively from the date of completion of 240 days of service from their dates of joining. This was challenged by the Municipal Corporation before the High Court and then before the Supreme Court, where the appeals were dismissed and the 2700 contract Powrakarmikas were directed to be granted permanent status. The High Court of Bombay in its judgment Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai vs Kachara Vahtuk Shramik Sangh [2017 (1) ABR 599] dismissed the petition of the Corporation and held as follows:

“52. It is a mandatory duty of the Corporation to remove the solid waste to keep the City clean ... The case of Safai Kamgars has always been treated on different footing by the State Government, looking at the nature of work they do and their oppressed social status. The plight of Safai Kamgars, primarily consisting of the backward sections of the society, has engaged the attention of the State Government for long time and various committees have been constituted to suggest measures improve the living and working conditions

72… These workers work throughout the year, barring four days. One does not have to go through years of such sub-human existence to complain of exploitation. The various ameliorative measures contemplated by the State for this class, their extreme backwardness tied up with the caste system, the lowly menial work they are forced to engage into by a public body which is bound to follow the ideals of the Constitution of India, makes the case of the concerned workers sui generis and cannot be compared to any other contract labour dispute. The Corporation is under a mandate to keep the City clean. Residents of the City have a fundamental right to a clean environment. This fundamental right and the mandatory duty, cannot be achieved by subjugating the fundamental rights of the workers to basic human dignity. The anxiety to find innovative ways to maintain a clean city can be understood, but in a welfare state, cleanliness for one class of citizens cannot be achieved by engaging in 'slavery' of the others. These 2700 workers, working round the year, provide the foundation on which the City functions. Instead of acknowledging this importance and giving them stability of permanent tenure to improve their living conditions, the Corporation, a public body, has taken advantage of its dominant position to exploit this lowest strata of the community, disregarding various welfare measures suggested by the State. In the circumstances, setting aside the award in the equity jurisdiction of this court, will be a travesty of justice.

Vide order dated 07.04.2017 in Civil Appeal No. 4929/2017 (@ SLP No. 6202/2017), the Supreme Court disposed the appeal filed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai also holding that permanent status should be conferred to those employees who had died in service or permanently incapacitated. As a model employer it is necessary that the State Government and all ULBs would refrain from unfair labour practices in regard to Powrakarmikas i.e. employing them as sweepers, drivers, cleaners, loaders, UGD workers, etc. on exploitative terms as direct payment powrakarmikas, daily-wage powrakarmikas, equal-pay workers, guised contract Powrakarmikas under contractors/manpower agency/labour contractors/SHGs/NGOs, etc.


Hence, the State Government has to recognise this historic injustice done to these workers and their community, and endeavour to break this chain. For this the State Government has to:

  1. grant permanent status to the workers presently working
  2. ensure regular recruitment in the future by following the roster system so that members from other communities are also involved in this work and,
  3. take all necessary steps to address the concerns raised in the IPD Salappa Committee and NLS reports that members of the other communities who are recruited as Powrakarmikas do some other work in the ULB which is not connected with the work of Powrakarmikas


Following are the suggestions for granting of permanent status to the Direct Payment Powrakarmikas:

    1. Firstly, the State Government must ensure the creation of adequate posts for Solid Waste Management since this is the core and obligatory function of the local bodies under the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, 1976, Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964 and BBMP Act, 2020.[1] For this the State Government would have to implement the recommendation of the NLS Report that there should be 1 powrakarmika for every 300 population. The Shri IPD Salappa report dated 1976 (i.e. almost 50 years ago) had recommended that there should be 1 powrakarmika for every 500 population, however, given the increase in population and increase in garbage generation, the recommendation of the NLS Report is to be implemented.
    2. Secondly, towards granting permanent status to the Direct Payment Powrakarmikas, the State Government can consider the following options:
  1. Option 1: Passing of a comprehensive special statute, firstly as an ordinance and then a law, namely “The Karnataka Safai Karamcharis (Social Upliftment and Welfare), Act” under Articles 15(4), 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, and 46 as also Entries 23 and 24 of the Concurrent List (VII Schedule) of the Constitution. The law will be passed recognizing the historic injustice done to powrakarmikas and to set the same right. It is passed recognizing that the practice of employing Powrakarmikas, previously under contract for years was sham, and continual employment of powrakarmikas on direct payment amounts to an unfair labour practice prohibited under section 25T of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The law will provide for implementation of all recommendations of the abovesaid Three Committees and particularly the following:
      1. Conferment of permanent status to workmen who have been in continuous service as powrakarmikas, whether as direct payment workers, daily-wage employees, contract or casual for a period of 180 days in a period of 12 months on the lines of the statutes passed by the Assam Industrial Establishments (Conferment of Permanent Status to Workmen) Act, 1985.
      2. Working and service conditions including provisions relating to leave and holidays, service registers, promotional opportunities, conditions of work and overtime and work load.
      3. Pay structure and special allowance
      4. Retirement and post-retirement benefits including pension and gratuity
      5. Appointment of Welfare Officer
      6. Provision of welfare measures such as education of children of Powrakarmikas, health service and housing for Powrakarmikas and their families
      7. Appointment of inspectors to ensure the functioning of the act and to initiate action for violations thereof.
      8. Grievance redressal system, which would ensure time-bound Redressal.
      9. Nodal Authority for overseeing implementation of the Act being the Karnataka State Commission for Safai Karamcharis.
      10. Establishment of a fully autonomous and financially independent Board “Pourakarmikas Welfare Board” to supervise the implementation of the various welfare measures
      11. Allocation of funds for Powrakarmikas through State Government grants.
      12. Responsibility of officials in implementing the provisions of this Act ensuring accountability and strict action for non-compliance.


  1. Option 2: Pass a law on the lines of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Establishment (Conferment of Permanent Status to Workmen) Act, 1981 and the Assam Industrial Establishment (Conferment of Permanent Status to Workmen) Act, 1985, including for urban local bodies, whereby DPS workers would have the right to be granted permanent status.


  1. Option 3: Framing a Scheme for granting permanent status to Powrakarmikas through a law, in compliance with the recommendations of the 3 Reports.


Please Click the link for the full report


[1] Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976: Section 58 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976 makes it an obligatory function of the Corporation to water and clean public places, remove sweepings and collect, remove, treat and dispose of sewage and offensive rubbish. Section 255 makes it the duty to ensure the removal of filth, and Section 258 makes it mandatory to provide for daily cleaning of streets and removal of rubbish and filth. Section 261 provides for the maintenance of establishment for removal of rubbish and filth.

Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964: Section 87(c) and (f) of the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964 makes solid waste management the obligatory function of all Municipalities

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act, 2020: Section 107 r/w Entry (A)(vi) of First Schedule of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act, 2020 makes solid waste management the core function of the BBMP