Written by Suraksha P. Times of India. 06/02/2016
Waste narratives: Demand for recognition, inclusion and protection (indiatimes.com) by Suraksha P.
NEW DELHI: Alliance of Indian Wastepickers, a national network of 35 organisations in 22 Indian cities brought together wastepickers from four different states and reiterated their demands at an event called ‘Waste Narratives’ at India Habitat Centre here on Thursday. These organisations advocate the mainstream inclusion of wastepickers. In the wake of the recently notified Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, they have been recognised, if not included.
Among their demands were registration of every waste collector and provision of an identity card that authorises him/her to collect, retain or sell waste. They also demanded that only registered waste collectors should be eligible for undertaking door-to-door waste collection in the city; provision of waste segregation centre in every neighbourhood; eligibility under government schemes irrespective of BPL status, provision of capital and infrastructure to processing enterprises of wastepickers, and a ban on incinerators.
Referring to the emphasis that the new SWM rules lay on the inclusion of informal waste dealers, Jyoti Mhapsekar, president of Stree Mukti Sanghathana said, “85 per cent of wastepickers are women. Recognition in the SWM rules is the first step, inclusion will be the next. Though the rules mandate segregation of waste in three categories, we demanded a fourth one, one for sanitary waste. Imagine the condition of women who sift through used sanitary pads and diapers.”
Old and frail Hasnoor Bi has been working at the Deonar waste dump in Mumbai for the past thirty years. She recalled her ordeal of having to deal with mafia at the 150-year-old dump, the country’s oldest landfill site. “They (mafia) threaten us that the police will jail us if we come anywhere near the dump,” she said. In Deonar, the mafia controls who gets scrap out of waste that comes out of a particular area, said Mhapsekhar. With the onset of the monsoon, life for wastepickers will be a living hell at the dump. “The stink will be unbearable. Even if we manage to segregate through the sludge, there will be no value to the scrap that we collect,” she said adding that scrap that sells for Rs. 25 per kg is sold for Rs. 2 per kg during monsoon.
19-year old Gautham from Amravati, AP, showed off his English speaking skills with a few words thrown in here and there during his Telugu monologue. “I picked it up from a shop where I sell scrap,” he said gleefully. “I will be leader of wastepickers once I’m back home. I will give them the confidence that there are so many people, like the ones gathered here, who are fighting for us,” he said. Gautham who started as a ragpicker at the age of seven had the same demands that others had. “First, we need shelter. Give us identity cards and protection from police,” he said
“Transport and storage are the biggest problems of wastepickers in the country. Since they can’t carry heavy loads for long distances, they end up selling scrap to the nearest scrapdealer and take whatever price they get,” said Mhapsekhar. The session was interspersed by the readings from a book titled Bicycle Dreaming by author Mridula Koshy that explores the life of a scrapdealer and how he loses his livelihood because of the setting up of incinerators. It throws light on the role of caste and religion in the lives of scrapdealers and how their livelihood is at the mercy of households, contractors, police and municipal workers.
“Decentralised waste management, training and integration of wastepickers is the only way forward. Scholarships for children of wastepickers should become a reality. It is facing a lot of implementation problems,” said Mhapsekhar. For a city that produces 4,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day, these changes are needed.