Why do waste-pickers continue to be a neglected lot, in spite of their vital contribution to keeping a city clean?
Pinky Chandran, Kabir Arora and Nalini Shekar
Mary is a waste-picker in Bengaluru. A single mother of two, she walks up to 25 km every day to collect 75- odd kg of waste, for a paltry sum of INR 100–150 a day. Being a woman, Mary is often harassed by lewd and drunk men, questioned by the police, threatened by other contract workers, laughed at by kids or accused by the neighbours of being a thief, yet she continues making rounds to collect waste, every day. Waste-picking for her and 25,000 others in Bengaluru is not a hobby, but an occupation that—apart from a fair share of hazards—is considered dirty, ridiculed and traditionally excluded from the narratives of urban life.
Like most Indian cities, Bengaluru has a booming informal economy with an estimated 25,000 waste-pickers, working together with the municipal waste system as it follows a centralised approach of collection and transportation to the landfills. However, despite this attitude of treating waste as disposal, several community-based initiatives were set up in the late 1980s, stressing the need for public participation in solid waste management. The Centre for Environment Education (CEE) started the Committee for Clean Bangalore in partnership with various organisations in 1989 to promote segregation at source. Twenty years later, in 2009, a group of individuals called the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) got together to promote decentralised waste management in the city for efficient waste handling.
In 2011, an alliance of waste-pickers filed an affidavit for recognition of waste-pickers which led the Lok Adalat to issue the landmark directive to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for the registration and enumeration of waste-pickers and scrap dealers. Around 8,000 waste-pickers were enumerated and more than 6,000 provided identity cards by the municipal body, which had the signature of the Commissioner of the city. This was facilitated by Hasiru Dala, a waste-picker member-based organisation, and the occasional advocacy of Solid Waste Management Round Table.
The piece was first published in Hard News Portal.