Waste management neglects rag pickers

As governments grapple with mounting quantities of waste and draft policies to tackle it, waste pickers who earn their livelihood from collection, segregation and disposal of waste still remain neglected, reveals a new study by a non-government organisation.

Accessing the welfare programmes and the prevalent rules for waste management in 14 major cities, Chintan, an environment action and research group, in its report ‘Failing the Grade’ has claimed that there was no city that has fully implemented the rules and policies for waste pickers.

Citing the case of Delhi, the report says the New Delhi Municipal Council has included waste pickers for doorstep collection, but the three 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 waste pickers and waste traders.

“In March 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) released a Performance Audit of Management of Waste in India. Amongst the observations, one was related to the lack of recognition of the informal sector. The report stated, ‘Only 17 per cent of the sampled States had recognised the role of the waste pickers.’ Five years on, there are new rules and new policies in place that refer to the informal sector, but their implementation remains, as the CAG noted then, unmonitored,” the report claims.

Studies conducted in Patna, Ahmadabad, Faridabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Allahabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Bangalore, Nagpur, Rajkot, Cochin, Pune and Delhi revealed non adherence to rules and lack of programmes for the rehabilitation of waster pickers.

“Chintan is shocked at the condition, despite the CAG orders the poor continue to be marginalised. Non implementation of the CAG’s orders on waste pickers is an act of acute impunity,” pointed out Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan.

Good practices

The report claims good practices like the doorstep collection of waste as is followed in Bhopal, Delhi and Pune and Bangalore’s I-card system exist, but there are “glaring deviations”.

“In Pune, inclusive collection of waste from the doorstep co-exists with mass displacement of waste pickers from a Hanjer run landfill. Though I-Cards and collection centres for waste pickers are amongst the most encouraging new trends in India amongst all the cities, there is little evidence of doorstep collection that includes waste pickers on a city-wide level in Bangalore.

Several cities, such as Patna and Nagpur, have displaced waste-picker inclusive systems instead of nurturing and upgrading these,” the report cites.

The lack of seriousness with regards to the rehabilitation of waste pickers can be gauged by the fact that despite finding a mention in the solid waste management projects in six surveyed cities, the ground realities were in sharp contrast.

“In Ahmadabad, waste pickers 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,” the report cites as an example.

A reason why some cities have failed to address the issues of waste pickers, the reports says, is their failure to recognise the role of the sector (waste pickers) as important actors in collection, segregation, transportation, reuse and recycling.

“Given the large quantities, several municipalities believe that only a large facility, at a centralised 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. 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,” the report says.

Suggesting interventions that can address the concerns of the waste pickers, Chintan has recommended fostering the inclusion of the informal sector in the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. “Chintan urges that the rules [for waste pickers] be implemented and policies embedded in decision making within one year. The next phase of JNNURM must incorporate inclusion and doorstep collection to be carried out only by waste pickers or organisations working with them.”