Waste-to-energy plants that are touted by the Government as the only solution to the city’s multiplying waste and shrinking waste dumps have taken away livelihood opportunities from a large number of waste-pickers and worse still have resulted in a number of children being deprived of an education, claims a study.

Based on interviews with 429 waster pickers at three sites near the landfill in Okhla — Tughlakabad Village, Tughlakabad Extension, and Tehkhand Village — where a waste-to-energy plant has come up — Chintan, an environment and research action group, has claimed that the establishment of the waste-to-energy facility has resulted in “subsequent loss of livelihoods” of waste pickers.

According to Chintan, the waste-to-energy plant in Okhla is one of the “main factors” for decreased incomes of waste-pickers who earlier earned their living sorting water near the landfill. “This decrease in income can also be seen in their responses to questions about getting loans, eating meat/fish, and celebrating major festivals. Landfill workers are planning to take even more loans on average than they have in the past year suggesting the severe extent of financial constraints faced by them,” the survey concludes.

A major consequences of decreased incomes is an adverse impact on the education of children in the waste-pickers’ families. The survey claims that to make up for the loss in incomes, these families have been compelled to “enlist previously non-working family members into the workforce” and decreased school attendance for children. “Sixty-seven per cent of those whose children had stopped attending school cited having not enough money and having to enlist children as income earners as the reasons for their children stopping schooling,” the study claims.

“It is totally unacceptable that women and children are paying a price for a piece of policy that result in public harm. Children, having to drop out of school, because of a policy, is just not acceptable,” said Bharati Chaturvedi of Chintan.

The NGO claims, there are an estimated 40-50,000 waste-pickers, collecting wastes from households, businesses, factories, roadsides, municipal dumps and landfills, and selling recyclables to earn a living in the city. “The Okhla landfill is one such place that in 2011 provided a means of livelihood to over 700 adults in the surrounding neighbourhoods. In January 2012, a waste-to-energy facility became functional at Sukhdev Vihar, near the Okhla landfill and because of this, approximately 1300 tons of waste that used to be dumped at the landfill daily is now fed to the incinerator,” the study by Chintan puts forth. To highlight the socio-economic impact of the technology, Chintan claims: “Between June 2011 and August 2012, the three communities show significant depopulation (40 per cent decrease), particularly among landfill workers (74 per cent decrease). The establishment of the waste-to-energy facility and the subsequent loss of livelihoods might be a major reason for out-migration from the surveyed communities.”

The NGO has recommended inclusion of waste-pickers in policies and allowing them access to dry waste through doorstep collection.

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