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Ahmedabad zero waste by 2031? Report is silent on plight of sweepers

The report
By Jitendra Rathod* 
“A Road Map for Zero Waste Ahmedabad City – A Visionary Document to Guide Ahmedabad towards Becoming a Resource Efficient and Zero Waste City by 2031”, a recently released official document, is an evidence of the casteist mindset of the Ahmedabad Municipal Commission (AMC) administration. The document has been financed and commissioned jointly by the AMC and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD). The document addresses several concerns of waste and waste management – except the safety and better health of the sweepers!
The title page of the document is sufficient to prove the casteist mindset of the AMC administration. The document claims to be “visionary”, but the sweepers will continue to collect the garbage, dust, filth of the city by unclean way. The title page itself has photographs of sweepers without any safety devices – and no eyebrow has been raised on this. Landfill sites and handling of garbage have been shown to be carried out by bare hands without even one safety device. It is evident that the AMC is not concerned about the sweepers, and intends that city must be waste free, but at the cost of the sweepers.
Sweeping is done in India by the scavenging community (the valmikis) manually. In fact, sweeping is the only occupation which is caste-based in India today. The sweepers in AMC clean, collect, handle the dust, garbage and filth of the city every day and keep the city clean to make it livable for other city dwellers. But no one cares for the health and dignity of the sweepers. The sweepers are prone to various occupational hazards.
A Janvikas-sponsored sample survey, in association with Manav Garima, in western Ahmedabad found that most of the sweepers are facing one or other occupational disease due to lack of safety devices. The survey found that most of the safai karamacharis are exposed to serious hazards like cancer, paralysis, tuberculosis, different types of fevers, asthma, headache, unbearable pain in hands and feet, and so on, due to the want of protective and secure equipment.
The so-called visionary document mentions that almost 1,10,667 metric tonnes (MT) of solid waste is generated in the city on a monthly basis. Out of this, most of it, 1,08,454 MT, is collected manually by sweepers. The document itself accepts that these wastes are collected by sweepers in an unclean way to keep the city neat, clean and a better place to live in.
Many a time volunteers from Janvikas and Manav Garima have raised the issue of safety equipments for the sweepers with the AMC officials. To this, the AMC administration’s explanation has been that the sweepers are provide with the all necessary safety devices but they do not use them. This made the two NGOs to select 50 private sweepers in western Ahmedabad as a role model. They were motivated and provided with safety devices like masks, aprons, gumboots, caps and gloves. What should surprise the AMC rulers is, all wear these safety devices and feel better.
It is shocking that, when Dr Tejas Shah, health officer, Western Zone, AMC, was told about the NGOs’ decision to provide safety devices to 50 sweepers employed by the AMC, he seemed reluctant to give a permission, asking, “Who would provide such equipment to rest of the sweepers?” What he did not realize was, it is the AMC’s responsibility to provide safety devices to all the sweepers and look after their health. But contrarily, the officials are not willing – even when the NGOs showed its readiness to bear the cost of the safety devices. This is the mindset of AMC officials.
Naresh Rajput, director, Solid Waste Management, AMC, is responsible for providing safety devices to sweepers. Janvikas and Manav Garima have advocated with him frequently, but he and other officials have refused to take any action on this. The cost of the safety devices for a rich institute like AMC is quite minimal. The AMC must provide safety equipments to the sweepers to make the occupation clean and dignified. It should ensure that all sweepers are provided training on occupational health hazards, motivate them to use on a regular basis, and set up monitoring mechanism for ensuring that all use them at work places. Only then the “roadmap for zero waste for Ahmedabad” will become appropriate!

Senior activist with Janvikas, Gujarat

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