They are the primary foot-soldiers in segregating garbage, work hard day and night in debilitating conditions, and recycle and manage a large chunk of the waste generated in Delhi. However, they are always overlooked when policy decisions are taken by the authorities. To put forward their plight, ragpickers from across the city gathered for a novel hearing on Tuesday.
Their concerns included structural stumbling blocks like lack of identity cards, addition of hazardous waste in domestic garbage, and no anganwadis for their children, among other issues. The meeting was attended by senior corporation officials, NGOs and Member of Parliament from New Delhi, Meenakshi Lekhi.
In a city that witnessed almost no garbage segregation at source, there are around 1.5 lakh ragpickers who manage up to 20% of 10,000 metric tonnes of waste generated every day. Under Rule 15 of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, as well as the recently declared Delhi Solid Waste Management Bylaws, they have to be mandatorily included in the city’s waste management system.
Jai Prakash Chowdhry, the general secretary of Safai Sena, an organisation of waste-pickers, said that despite the rules saying that they have to be brought inside the system, nothing has being done. “We don’t have IDs or Aadhaar cards, a space for segregating waste or even gloves,” he added.
Ramesh Mahto, a wastepicker, said that almost 40% of them don’t have any identity documents making it impossible to access welfare schemes or even the basic rights. Apart from demands like pension and access to schemes like Jan Dhan, the most important thing for the ragpickers was “respect from the system.”
Mohd Nazeer from Netaji Nagar said that most of the ragpickers die well before the age of 50-60 years. “We are forced to beg at the end of our lives. If we give so much to the system, why can’t we get some dignity through pension?” he asked.
The women waste-pickers highlighted the problems faced by their children. Khatoon from Vishwanathpuri near Bhalswa said, “Due to non-availability of anganwadi, we are forced to take small kids to hazardous sites. Our areas are full of criminals and drug addicts. It is dangerous to leave the children back home with no supervision.”
Most of the waste-pickers live in areas like Ghazipur, Mulla Colony, Dallupura, Second Pushta, Chaman Vihar, Bhalswa landfill, Vivekananda Camp and Lodhi Gardens.
Corporation officials assured the ragpickers that plans are afoot to provide them ID cards. Lekhi assured to make her constituency an ideal area for waste management and special camps would be organised to meet their demands.
Chitra Mukherjee, head of programmes at NGO Chintan, said, “A much-needed change is required in how our cities manage their waste inclusively and sustainably.”