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Public hearing: Delhi waste workers seek right to garbage, access to place to sort dump

Counterview Desk 

A recent public hearing on waste workers, organized by the Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) with the help of several other civil rights groups, highlighting multiple layers of harassment faced by them from the police and municipal officials, has regretted they do not have any identity, hence are unable to access any government benefit which may benefit them or their family.
Held at village Tilla Shebazpur, Loni, Bhopura Road (Ghaziabad, UP) with the participation of nearly 100 waste workers and activists, the hearing saw women waste workers complaining about facing double exploitation: They have work as waste workers and even as managing their household. Also, they do not have access to a safe and closed toilet and have to defecate in open fields, said a DASAM note.

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In 2014, the government declared the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) or the Clean India Campaign, making sanitation one of its key priorities. The move initiated a positive change in the direction of solid waste management in India that led to issuing of a renewed version of Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules in 2016. 
The rule for the first time recognized the contribution of waste collectors in solid waste management processes. Yet it is a disappointment as the Rule steers clear from any acknowledgment of waste collectors as laborers. The SWM Rules 2016 takes a staunch managerial approach to solid waste without taking cognizance of the workers and their right to a life of dignity; a stance which firmly should be objected to.
There are approximately four million waste collectors in India. Half a million waste collectors are indulged in waste management only in the Delhi NCR area and most of them are migrants from different states of the country. It is also a matter of fact that most people who are indulged in waste collecting belong to the Dalit and Adivasi community. 
They migrate into big cities in search of livelihood and get entangled in the web of extortion and exploitation of civic bodies. This clearly shows that law in the capital is being mocked by the implementers of law and order itself.
Waste collectors primarily belong to marginalized communities whose contributions to the environment and society largely remain uncompensated. The failure to recognize them as laborers is not only exclusionary but exacerbates the marginalization encountered by this worker group. As SWM Rules 2016 are formulated by the Ministry of Environment, its perspective is limited to the domain of environment which makes it incapable of addressing the concerns of waste collectors engaged in waste management processes at the lowest level.
For the same a public hearing on the waste workers issue was organized where the waste workers themselves shared their testimonies in front of the public and the jury. The jury of the public hearing comprised of Dr Shyamala Mani, consultant, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and former professor National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA); Atin Biswas, programme director at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Dr Jitendra Nagar, department of environmental studies, University of Delhi; Dr Somjita Laha, fellow, Institute for Human Development (IHD), Debendra Kumar Baral, president, Bal Vikasa Dhara; and Ms. Sweta Celine Xess, research scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). All together 20 cases were presented in front of the Jury.
The hearing highlighted the multiple layers of harassment faced by the workers from the Police, New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) or Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) employees. There is no law concerning waste workers, only their name has been mentioned. The public hearing was attended by more than 150 people. Few cases are mentioned below:
Ram Kumar, 77, has been working as a ragpicker for the past 40 years. He migrated from Lucknow but currently resides in New Delhi. He complained of harassment by police. Also, the NDMC forces the waste picker to lie about receiving bounty. He earns for himself as there is no one in the family, earns a minimum of 600-800 approximately per week, depending on the material he sells.
Nun Nisa and Bibi Suraiya complained about facing double exploitation. They complained of dual labour as waste workers and as woman managing the household. In addition to the harassment and problems during work, they do not have access to a safe and closed toilet and have to defecate in open fields. Their settlement doesn’t have any provision of electricity and water.
Shahida, a seven-year-old girl, also complained that since her parents do not earn enough, she is unable to go to school and receive education. She also added that both her parents leave for work early in morning and do not spend time with her.
The jury recommended that the waste workers should be provided with an identity card so they are not harassed by the police. Also, since the workers do not have any identity, they are unable to access any government benefit which may benefit them or their family.
Waste workers should have a:
  • Right to garbage, and
  • Right to access to a place to sort dump.
The governing agencies such as NDMC, South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) etc. should hire waste workers and work as allies instead of working against each other.
The public earing was concluded by emphasizing the imhportance of unionization of all the waste workers in Delhi to better articulate their demands.

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