Photo used for representational purpose only
MUMBAI: When Jitendra Kadam returns home these days, invisible and wet inside his sweaty blue PPE kit, his wife, Jagruti spritzes his whole being with a disinfectant while their two daughters place a bucket outside their Rs-4500-a month chawl room in which he can pop in his uniform before heading wordlessly for the bathroom. Some days, the kids even massage his shoulders which ache from lugging the 16-litre can of the pungent sodium hypochlorite all day. The perilous job at a cleaning and disinfecting firm not only pays his rent and the EMIs of his 125cc scooter but also turns his family into a silent pitcrew of sorts. In the days to come, Kadam knows his domestic pitcrew will have to work harder.
With offices opening their shutters on June 8, there is a huge demand for sanitisation and disinfection services. Pest control firms are receiving around 20 to 25 inquiries per day from desperate clients who want their office premises clean and ready for staff to step in on Monday. The problem however is shortage of manpower. “More than 50% of my staff have left for their hometowns. Of the rest, many live in far flung suburbs like Virar or Kalyan and transporting them to the client’s location is an issue. Not all clients can afford to send over cars to collect our staff,” said Jaldhi Trivedi, CEO of Elite Corporation and former president of Indian Pest Control Association. This has also sparked cold wars between firms and clients. “One of our clients is a leading bank and they are upset that we did not prioritize them over others. We had to explain that fixed time slots were being given out to all clients,” said Trivedi.
Trivedi says he doesn’t send over his staff to sanitise buildings where Covid-19 positive cases have been detected. “My employees do not have PPE suits. They use regular precautionary measures like masks, gloves, face shields and sanitisers. But some of the clients do not disclose that they have had a Covid-19 positive case on their premises until our staff reaches there,” Trivedi said. This is why everyday is nervous-making for sanitization worker Ganesh Taral, who recently attended a call at a general store in Jogeshwari’s Poonam Nagar only to discover later an employee there had been found infected. “We also have a family,” says the financially anxious Taral, who had to placate the concerns of not only his angry wife but also a reluctant society secretary before taking up the job. “I make sure to spray disinfectant all over myself before entering. Thankfully, I live on the ground floor which makes things easier. I don’t want to put anyone else at risk,” says Taral. To establish the company’s credibility, Taral makes sure to click pictures and videos of the team in action. “I send these to the client as proof,” he says.
“Sometimes we get to know of cases after the job is done,” says Kadam, who grew curious after being asked to “particularly disinfect the toilet and kitchen” of an office in Mahim recently only to find that this was because a cook had been diagnosed with Covid-19 there.
There’s no government guideline mandating any kind of deep cleaning or sanitising. “But it helps keep customers and employees healthy. And later, nobody can blame us for being negligent,” said the promotor of an auditing firm in south Mumbai.
About three to four workers are required to sanitize a one lakh square foot space. The strong fumes of sodium hypochlorite can be suffocating, so we ask occupants to step outside the premises for that time,” says Deepak K, who—as the in charge of sourcing manpower for a sanitizing company—makes sure to lead the team in cases where a Covid-19 patient was found. So far, he has led six to seven such cases from Bandra to Panvel. One of the homes belonged to a patient who had died a day before the team had been summoned.
For each sanitization “call”, Kadam earns Rs 500. Desperation led him into the job. “I had even applied for the post of ward boy at Kasturba hospital but for some reason, my online application didn’t go through,” says Kadam, who had undergone ward boy training in 1996.
Not only offices, pest control firms are being flooded with calls from apartment owners as well as chawls. As a rule, Kadam hoses down not only the lift but also the watchman of each building he enters down with his sanitizing disinfectant. On May 23, along with colleagues, Kadam sanitized the corridors and stairs of an entire building in Kandivli in which a Covid-19 patient was found. Recently, when a bus conductor in a nearby chawl in Malad fell prey to the virus, Kadam played good neighbour and sanitised the chawl for free. To keep his strong will from being infected by well-meaning relatives who dissuade him from the risky job, 42-year-old Kadam has evolved a strategy. “I make sure to leave one cellphone at home on purpose.”