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India is a Massive Reserve of Ragpickers: Here is Why they are Critical for Waste Management!

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Pollution , VOA

May 12, 2017: The Ajmer Shatabdi pulls into the New Delhi station every night at around 11 pm. During the six-hour journey from Ajmer, the train serves tea, snacks, soup, dinner and dessert — more food than an average person can eat in that time.

As soon as passengers start getting off the train, ragpickers jump in and start scrounging for waste material and leftovers –samosas, biscuits, plastic bottle, wraps and so on. They are a part of India’s massive reserve of ragpickers — their numbers are estimated between 1.5 million and 4 million; Delhi itself has over 500,000.

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Ragpickers sustain themselves by collecting, sorting and segregating waste and then trading it. In doing so, they help clean up a significant proportion of the 62 million tonnes of waste generated annually in India.

Given that rag-picking is a totally informal sector it is hard to quantify how much waste is collected in this manner, but there are rough indicators: Only 75-80 per cent of the waste generated is collected by municipal bodies. And more than 90 per cent of India does not have a proper waste disposal system.

A lot of garbage clearing thus is the done informally, by ragpickers who work without any job security, salary or dignity. Not just that, they are regularly exposed to cuts, infections, respiratory diseases and tuberculosis — apart from poverty, humiliation, harassment, and sexual abuse on the streets.

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‘This informal sector has saved the country. They are doing a good job and I have decided to recognise their efforts. We will grant (a) national award,’ former Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had declared in 2015 at an event on waste management in New Delhi.

It was declared that a cash prize of Rs 150,000 ($2,330) would be given to three ragpickers and three associations involved in innovative waste management. More than a year later there is no information available about the scheme.

Javadekar has stated that India will, in another couple of decades, generate nearly thrice the waste it currently does — ‘165 million tonnes by 2030 and 450 million tonnes by 2050’. Only 22-28 per cent of the waste now collected is processed or treated.

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Ragpickers actually complement the work of civic bodies, Shashi Bhushan Pandit, who runs the All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh, pointed out in a March 2016 interview.

‘According to the law under which a municipality is set up, it places dustbins according to the size of the population. It is assumed that the generator of the waste will drop it in the bin. After that, it is the responsibility of the municipality to collect it from there (the transfer station) and treat it at the landfill,’ Pandit said. ‘However, it is not the responsibility of the municipality to pick up the garbage from the source. That’s why the informal sector has filled this gap.’

Papiya Sarkar, Senior Programme Officer (Chemicals and Health), Toxics Link, a New-Delhi based NGO, classifies waste pickers into four categories: Those who carry sacks and collect anything of resale value from open drains and bins; the kabadi or bhangar men on bicycles who collect from households and then segregate glass, paper, and bottles from plastics; those who ride tricycles and collect almost 50 kg of waste each day and travel long distances to sell them, and finally, those who work for scrap dealers.

Darkness Under the Lamps was a study undertaken by Harsh Mander and V. Manikandan in 2011 at the Centre for Equity Studies in Madanpur Khadar, an urban village in south Delhi where many ragpickers live. They complained that they were treated ‘with suspicion and derision, because of their extreme poverty, vocation of rag-picking, minority faith and suspicions that they are from Bangladesh by the middle-class community living around (sic)’. The children of ragpickers often carry on with the same occupation and are rarely educated.

The government treats them no differently. Pandit has demanded inclusive rights, health benefits, safety gear and social security for ragpickers because they provide services that benefit the environment. ‘In Bogota, Columbia, every ragpicker is paid $2 per day by the municipality. In Brazil, they have made sure that only the ragpicker can pick the waste (from the source). Why can’t India do it?’ he asked.

In September 2016, with the support of the Kachra Kamgar Union, we visited a ragpickers’ colony near Vasant Kunj, close to the Delhi airport. More than 250 families here depend on rag-picking to earn a living.

The men leave their homes early morning with their waste carts. A few of them work where the municipal corporation deposits waste, some scour the roads and others go to specific neighbourhoods looking for kabadi from homes.

Each ragpicker has a different story to tell, but they all suffered acute destitution once. Ranjit is a landless labourer from Bihar who came to Delhi seeking employment. Kundan once grazed cattle for a Chhatarpur farm in south Delhi. Another man washed toilets at the Delhi airport before settling down at the ragpickers’ colony.

Most ragpickers in this colony, however, work independently. Several men we spoke to agreed that they had tried their hand at other things but came back to rag-picking because it paid better. Migrants here also help their kin to move to Delhi and join the trade. This meant that most people in the basti (neighbourhood) came from two states: Bihar and West Bengal.

The women we met do not go out for picking, but are expected to sort waste at home. Even eight- or 10-year-old children join their parents in sorting waste.

‘If you work 12-14 hours a day, you can make a living. But rates have gone down significantly. A sack of rag that fetched us Rs 300 five years ago now gets us no more than Rs 175-200. See how much rice and vegetables cost now — it is impossible to survive,’ complained Kundan.

Police harassment is a common complaint. Young boys are picked up on false allegations and beaten up in police stations, said the residents. Sometimes they pick up mobile phones or other lost or stolen goods and then get arrested for committing a crime. However, in this colony, residents said the union ensures that they are not harassed much.

Hair and plastic fetch the best rates but sorting waste is a difficult and hazardous job. ‘We open sacks and there are soiled sanitary napkins in newspapers, human excreta in polythene, shards of glass, syringes or nails. We cut ourselves, develop rashes and infection. Rotten food makes us sick. But we have no pension, no recognition, no medical facilities,’ said a ragpicker.

We asked a few women hailing from Uttar Pradesh for the one thing they would ask from the government. Disposal bins for the waste leftover from sorting, they said. Without bins, this waste simply piles up in their homes and lanes.

‘Give us that and access to water. We buy two buckets of water every other day and pay Rs 1,000-2,000 a month to the one person who has a hand pump. If we can get a tanker, we could bathe properly. Yes we deal with garbage, but we want to be able to live in a space that is clean,’ the women said. (IANS/IndiaSpend)

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Delhi University Students Win the Enactus World Cup 2017

India wins the Enactus World Cup 2017

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India wins Enactus World Cup 2017. Twitter.

New Delhi, Sep 30: After an extremely tough competition between different students across the world in the Enactus World Cup 2017, Team India, represented by Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies (SSCBS), Delhi University emerged as the winner. The winning projects were project UDAAN and Mission RAAHAT.

Supporting the Government of India’s Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, RAAHAT strives to effectively eliminate open defecation and provide safe sanitation in the urban slums; whereas, UDAAN aims at narrowing the digital divide between rural and urban India by setting up computer centres.

The Delhi University college team was led by the college’s faculty advisor, Anuja Mathur and student president of SSCBS Student President Aditya Sharma. The winning projects included 34 more members. The Enactus India and Enactus SSCBS were presented the Ford Better World Award of USD 50,000.

Also Read: Three Indian Women on Fortune’s Most Powerful Business Women

President and Global CEO, Enactus, Rachael A. Jarosh congratulated the Indian for winning the world cup and called the projects- RAAHAT and UDAAN, inspirational success stories of Enactus students, who are sowing businesses. She said that the projects address the real world challenges efficiently and innovatively. Enactus India President Farhan Pettiwala said that the two projects created by Delhi University students contribute to the country’s betterment, as they support the Government’s civil and social agenda.

Enactus is an international nonprofit organisation, with 72,000 students from 1,700 universities in 36 countries, which held its annual global event in London from September 26 to 28. A selected group of 3,500 students, business, government leaders and academicians across the globe were present at the event. Participants for the final competition round are qualified from over 72,000 university students. Each team has about 17 minutes to present their projects of entrepreneurial action.

Enactus works to nurture the entrepreneurial skills of students, and to address fundamental, social and economic challenges by developing innovative and experiential learning opportunities for students.

-by Megha Acharya of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.