The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Written by Laxmi


Country India

January 24, 2014


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In 2007 waste pickers in Pune stepped out of garbage containers to establish SWaCH, a workers cooperative to provide front end waste management services to their city. SWaCH enabled their transition from waste pickers to service providers. Seven years later, 2300 waste pickers provide daily door to door waste collection services to 4 lakh households in the city, recovering a minimum of Rs.10 per household per month as user fees. The average user fee in Pune is currently Rs.20-30. Compare this with the official monthly user fee of Rs.60 in Patna and Rs.100 in Kottayam!.

In 2008 PMC and SWaCH entered into a pro-poor public private partnership arrangement. As approved by the municipal general body, PMC was to provide infrastructure, management costs; equipment, safety gear and welfare benefits to the SWaCH members. Till date the PMC has paid to SWaCH only Rs. 3.94 crores of the total Rs.8.26 crores that it was supposed to pay over a five year period! The PMC has completely defaulted on payment of the collection subsidy of Rs.5 per slum household per month, although SWaCH members cover 28,700 slum households. The PMC has never adhered to the schedule for the provision of equipment or safety gear and welfare benefits. Neither has it provided the requisite number of material recovery centres for classification of recyclable waste. Corporators have been known to oppose the construction of such sheds reflecting their NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude to waste. In addition some corporators have insisted on the purchase of Tata Ace ghantgadis from their ward wise budgets to offer free collection services. This has disrupted the existing collection system and is unsustainable for the PMC because the cost of collection by this model is Rs.1200 per vehicle per day. Compare this to the fact that if SWaCH members were to service the same number of households the costs to the municipality would be no more than Rs 1 per day per household. The world over primary waste collection from the point of generation is the most expensive part of the waste management value chain. However the extremely conservative cost model of SWaCH ensures that the PMC does not have to incur such huge expenses.

SWaCH has completed one year without PMC support

The PMC has not paid SWaCH a paisa since February 2013. Although the SWaCH agreement ended on 30th September 2013, the PMC has defaulted on payment towards SWACH overheads including supervisory and logistic costs. Despite that SWaCH members have provided uninterrupted services to residents and will continue to do so in future. The PMC is currently obfuscating the issues by claiming that the model was to be sustainable after 5 years. It is. SWaCH members are paid by service users to whom they are accountable. SWaCH members pay 5% of their earnings in user fees towards supporting cost of staff, logistics and other overheads. It is this resilient informal sector which has truly made the model sustainable despite PMC delays and neglect. There is no reason why SWaCH members should also pay for the supervisory cadre whose role was to interface with the municipal secondary collection system and let the PMC completely abdicate its responsibility. SWaCH has therefore decided to trim its supervisory cadre.

SWaCH sees no reason for waste pickers to subsidise a municipality which has an annual budget of Rs.3500 crore! The PMC in fact owes SWaCH Rs.75 lakhs in welfare benefits to waste pickers; Rs.50.4 lakhs for slum collection; and 4.36 crores of the balance. The PMC expectation that its poorest citizens should subsidise its SWM costs while it continues to take an apathetic, indifferent and callous attitude towards them will be met with firm resistance and protest.

SWaCH members will continue to provide services and we urge residents of Pune to support them as they have during these past few years.

In the last seven years waste pickers carved a service niche and generated their own employment allied to their core work of recovery and sale of recyclables. Initially the residents of Pune balked at the user fees but accepted it in recognition of the waste pickers work, even progressively increasing the user fees to match inflation. Effectively this means that SWaCH members earn a minimum of Rs.4.8 crore annually from service fees which amounts to a saving to the PMC. This has enabled 3626 children of waste pickers to pursue their education.

The core elements of the SWaCH model are doorstep collection; direct accountability to service users, segregation of waste, diversion of waste into recycling, composting and biogas processing. The model is fore grounded in the reality of workers and their working conditions, needs of service users, composition of the city’s waste and financial analysis and research. The SWaCH model has received international and national accolades which adorn the Pune Municipal Corporation offices!

Lakshmi Narayanan,
Governing Board Member