Mumbai has only 31men on frontline of battle with rats

Sumitra Deb Roy, TNN

MUMBAI: The city has only 31 people to dedicatedly go after the millions of rats infesting it. An RTI reply has revealed that this is the number of night rat killers (NRKs) on whom the BMC primarily depends to curb the rodent menace. Other methods like traps and poison are not as effective as NRKs bludgeoning rats to death.

It is estimated that Mumbai needs at least 10 times the existing number of NRKs to keep rats from overrunning it. Also, the existing NRKs work only in the island city, leaving the suburbs to cope with less effective means of rat elimination, including the BMC’s outsourcing of the job to ‘rat labourers’.

If the number of rats killed in an area is an indication of the extent of the problem, wards B (Kalbadevi; 77,283 rats killed in 2012), C (Tardeo, Chandanwadi; 46,141 rats killed) and E (Byculla, Reay Road; 41,897 rats killed) seem to be the worst-affected.

The BMC says it is in the process of filling NRK vacancies. Till three years ago, NRKs numbered 44. BMC’s insecticide officer Rajan Naringrekar said 90 recruitments are in the offing. “But there is a hiccup: animal welfare activists say bludgeoning is a cruel way of killing rats. Senior officials have been looking into the issue of cruelty as raised by the activists.”

An NRK told TOI not many people want to take up a job that pays little and demands a lot. “We are supposed to fulfil a daily quota of 30. The target piles up if we fail to meet it,” he said. “Each rat killed fetches an NRK just 30 paisa.”

Recently, NRKs were featured in a documentary that was screened in an international film festival. But that has done little for them. NRKs say they do not even have basic protective gear like masks and gloves. “All we have is a stick and a torch,” said an NRK, who has held the job for over a decade.