Written by SEWA. SEWA Rashtriy a Patrika. Issue 2/3. 05/01/2016
There is good news for waste pickers. The lakhs of nondescript women with a waste-bag hung over their shoulders, collecting garbage from roads and dumpsites is a common sight across cities in India. This population — that comprises 1-2 percent of the population of every city and is an integral part of the urban set-up — has now been officially acknowledged in the Solid Waste Management Rules 2015, released by the government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which has also defined the class of workers.
“Waste picker” means a person or group of persons informally engaged in the collection and recovery of reusable and recyclable waste from the source of waste generation: the streets, the bins, material recovery facilities, processing and waste disposal facilities for sale to recyclers directly or through intermediates to earn their livelihood. This definition and acknowledgement of waste pickers — considered one of the most marginalized groups of workers — has come as a big boost for the community that struggles to make ends meet by rummaging through waste — tonnes of which is generated in each city.
In Ahmedabad alone, there are around 40,000-50,000 waste pickers who are self-employed and earn anywhere from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per day. Most of the waste pickers are women and these workers are self-employed. They belong mostly to the Valmiki community or the Dalit community, both being scheduled castes. These workers have no other skills except waste picking and pick all kind of waste which includes waste papers, torn shoes, broken glass, wood pieces, thin polythene bags, electronic waste disposal, plastic to bones and even human hair.
Rajiben Parmar, who has been working as a waste picker since 1992, said she was ecstatic that union government had acknowledged their work in the Solid Waste Management Rules.
Raji says that she and her other waste picker sisters would benefit the most if the government also made rules to give them priority in waste collection. “It is a big thing that the union government has defined the term “waste picker”. The next big step would be to give us priority in the waste disposal system. Currently, most of the waste disposal work is awarded by civic bodies on a contract basis to big contractors. This has robbed us of employment”, says Rajiben. Jassi Rathod, 65, who has worked as a waste picker since 1972, says that after big contractors were given the job of waste collection, many waster pickers found themselves deprived of segregating waste at source and earning a few extra rupees that would go a long way towards feeding themselves and their families, and supporting their children’s education.
Manali Shah, SEWA (Self Employed Wimen Association) vice president and head of the urban union, said that the most significant aspect of the rules is that they direct authorities to establish a system to recognize waste picker organizations and integrate unauthorized waste pickers into solid waste management, including door-to-door collection.
“When municipal corporations entrust the job of garbage disposal to big contractors, they ruthlessly exclude the informal waste collectors, leaving them in a lurch, struggling for a living,” says Shah. “Nearly 20-30 percent of waste disposed by a city is recyclable. When traditional waste pickers go for door to door collection, they segregate the recyclable waste and help environment.”