Wednesday May 23, 2018
Home India India is a Ma...

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

0
//
84
Pollution , VOA
Republish
Reprint

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.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

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.

Go to NewsGram and check out news related to political current issues.

‘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.

Look for latest news from India in NewsGram.

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)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 NewsGram

Next Story

Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

0
//
11
representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)