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India – 13 August 2012 – 

In March 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) released a Performance Audit of Management of Waste in India. Amongst his observations, one was related to the lack of recognition of the informal sector. The report stated, “Only 17 percent of the sampled states had recognized the role of the wastepickers.”

Five years later, in 2012, there have been several new policies and rules related to including wastepickers and the informal sector in solid waste management. A list is attached. These rules are based upon the understanding that the informal sector can play an important role in SWM and that waste itself can be a tool to alleviate poverty.

Failing the Grade is an evaluation of how these rules have been implemented, 5 years after the CAG’s observations. Chintan studied Patna, Ahmedabad, Faridabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Allahabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Bangalore, Nagpur, Rajkot, Cochin, Pune and Delhi. We evaluated the proposals the cities had submitted to the JNNURM for solid waste, corresponding Master Plans, and the reality on the ground based on visits, discussions and observations.

Unfortunately, Chintan found that there was no city that had fully implemented these rules and policies.

A. Key findings:

1. Good practices included Bhopal’s orders for doorstep collection, Delhi and Pune’s doorstep collection and Bangalore’s I-Card System. These cities emerged as the best in terms of implementation, but all with glaring deviations. In Pune, inclusive collection of waste from the doorstep co-exists with mass displacement of wastepickers from a Hanjer run landfill. Though I-Cards and collection centers for wastepickers are amongst the most encouraging new trends in India amongst all the cities, there is little evidence of doorstep collection that includes wastepickers on a city-wide level in Bangalore. In Delhi, the NDMC has included wastepickers for doorstep collection, but the 3 new Municipal Corporations have set up a series of waste-to-energy plants, and contracting out waste handling and collection to private companies, thus displacing wastepickers and waste traders.

2. Several cities, such as Patna and Nagpur, have displaced waste-picker inclusive systems instead of nurturing and upgrading these. This has been done by privatizing aspects of the SWM chain-through doorstep collection and at the landfill, respectively.

3. JNNURM could have fostered inclusion of the informal sector in SWM systems. Instead, it has failed this opportunity. Of the 8 detailed SWM Projects Chintan could access, 6 of the cities mentioned wastepickers in their plans. These were Ahmedabad, Faridabad, Varanasi, Allahabad, Indore and Cochin. However, the reality was different. In Ahmedabad, wastepickers lost their doorstep collection contract to a small private company. In Varanasi, a private company, A2Z, was contracted for SWM, including doorstep collection. The company has been known to not be inclusive previously.

B. What Drives These Trends?

Some key new trends around the idea of Solid Waste Management (SWM) also exclude the sector due to the way in which they ignore the role of the sector as important actors in collection, segregation, transportation, reuse and recycling. These trends are as follows:

  • Centralization: Given the large quantities, several municipalities believe that only a large facility, at a centralized level, can handle waste. Waste-pickers operate efficiently locally, but are squeezed out.
  • Privatization at multiple levels of SWM: Large companies are entrusted with running several processes related to collection and processing of solid waste. A direct impact of pursuing such models is that the companies are able to procure contracts that allow them ownership over waste, and therefore illegalize any prior, existing enterprise. Such contracts are often granted because these companies are seen as key players in cleaning the city.
  • Lack of understanding of the informal recycling sector: Most often, policy makers are unable to understand the critical role of various chains of informal sector, or the quantum of their work. An outcome of this is the formal marginalization of the sector.
  • De-Prioritization of Pollution: While there are several concerns about pollution from poor waste handling, existing plans do not see these as priority. Waste-to-Energy plants, for example, do not have any mechanism to monitor for dioxin, but it is likely that they will emit this highly toxic compound, endangering public health.

C. What Can Be Done Now?

Chintan urges that the Rules be implemented and policies embedded in decision making. The next phase of JNNURM must incorporate inclusion. First steps:

  • Doorstep collection to be carried out only by wastepickers or organizations working with them. Reading this with the Burman Committee Report, doorstep collection services must be provided across cities.
  • Dry/Recyclable waste from any source must be allowed to the wastepickers or their organizations.
  • Some basic infrastructure and support is required from municipalities for the success of these operations: cycle carts, fiscal help, space etc. As waste-pickers and their organizations do not have the deep pockets of corporate houses, they cannot provide themselves with these.
  • In case of landfills, a model as in Rosario, Argentina should be followed which allows wastepickers access to waste under improved conditions. This is being followed also in Gyor, Hungary, and in Heredia, Costa Rica, Dhaka, Bangladesh, as well as Lima, Peru. Versions of this are seen in Quezon City, Philippines. This requires a space for trucks to unload their waste and a sorting yard that allows wastepickers to carry on their work without injury or disturbing the rest of the technical area.
  • Documentation both baseline and inclusive is key to change. The number of wastepickers to be assimilated in the above cases should be computed based on the areas that will be bounded or from where waste will be gathered.
  • A tool to assess inclusion must be used by all municipalities while creating SWM plans. Failing the Grade is not an option.

For more details, contact:

Bharati Chaturvedi
C: 9818400007;

Pujarini Sen
Manager – Advocacy
C: 8586016050;
Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group C-14, Lajpat Nagar, Second Floor. New Delhi. 110014. India.

T : +91-11-46574171-72.
F : +91-11-46574174