The way they live on the margins of society leaves out of reach of any welfare
Hyderabad: You’ve walked past them, never stopping to see. Dogs bark at them on the streets. But at last someone went and did a survey of waste pickers, popularly called ragpickers. Here’s what they found:
Eighty percent of waste pickers belong to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups.
Fifty-nine per cent of them have never heard of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. And around 70 per cent of those who have never heard of Swachh Bharat, think it’s got nothing to do with their work.
Only 6 per cent of waste pickers have been given training in solid waste management.
The findings are from a national survey done by the Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre (DBRC) with assistance from the Alliance for Indian Waste-pickers.
If the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission, launched in 2014, is all that it’s cracked up to be, then awareness of it among the waste pickers ought not to be so low.
For when the government came up with Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) in 2016, it for the first time ever recognized waste pickers and informal waste collectors. There were purported to be given occupational identity cards.
Alladi Deva Kumar, national gen sec of DBRC, said the survey was carried out in 20 cities to see how in the Swachch Bharat era ‘ragpickers’ have been integrated into the waste management strategy of municipalities.
As part of Swachch Bharat, municipal corporations are given what are called Swachh Sarvekshan rankings. There’s weightage in these rankings for how civic bodies protect the interests of waste pickers and integrate their services into practices.
Findings of the survey seem to belie the claims of civic bodies.
Deva Kumar said, “In our view, waste pickers are environmentalists because they save the environment through their work. They contribute to the nation's GDP as they collect waste that is sent to energy plants.”
Administratively, waste pickers are lumped under the manual scavenger category.
The circumstances of a waste worker’s life leave him beyond the reach of much of the welfare aid handed out to marginalized sections. Deva Kumar said waste pickers live on the roadside or near dumping yards, and have no permanent houses. This means they are not given identity documents like Aadhaar card.
They are subject to several layers of discrimination, including caste, gender, physical bearing, among others. “Pregnant women cannot even go to hospital,” said Deva Kumar.
Indeed, they are eligible for some benefits but know nothing about them, and so do not get them.
The government has completely failed in integrating waste pickers into the municipal corporations, said Deva Kumar.