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No space for 2 lakh waste pickers in Delhi masterplan for next two decades: Study

By Our Representative 

A new survey report prepared by the NGO Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group on the challenges faced by waste pickers in managing solid waste in Delhi, “Space for Waste - 2021”, has regretted that currently, there is no provision of workspace for waste workers, hence they carry out their work of segregation, repairing, and composting at different locations.
“About 38% of waste pickers work in dhalaos, 17% in landfills, 22% at their homes, 10% in rickshaws, and 10% on roads and pay a price for the space ranging from Rs 400 to Rs 8,000, depending on the area used for segregation”, the report says, even as quoting waste pickers as stating that they “require a space of 225 sq ft to 450 sq ft for the segregation of waste.”
The report, which presents an analysis of the space needs for solid waste management (SWM), even as presenting an overview of the contribution of waste pickers as climate champions towards recycling, repair, and composting in achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, says, as of today, “There is no provision of workspace, safety gears, drinking water, and at the risk of their health and safety.”
Pointing out that segregation at the source is crucial for efficient waste management, the report says, “The surveyed waste pickers travel a distance of up to 19 km to collect waste from households or for segregation of waste, and those working in door-to-door collection, collect waste from 60 to 400 households – which only reflects the quantum of households and families dependent on them.”
Noting that they are exposed to a variety of toxins as they work without protective equipment and are at the risk of water-borne diseases and infections, the report – based on a survey conducted in April 2021 to understand the space options available for informal waste pickers, and offers recommendations to integrate waste workers in the 2041 Masterplan for Delhi (MPD 2041) – says, about 81% complained of mosquito problems while 51% expressed the difficulty of working in the monsoon.
Coming to “discrimination and harassment at the place of work”, the report says, “The social stigma attached to waste-work results in citizens bothering them or posing hindrances. They are often imperiled and disturbed by moving traffic (24.6% of waste workers expressed this).” It adds, “Lack of availability of water at or near their workstation for cleaning and drinking purposes “poses health and hygiene risks.”
According to the report, with increased urbanization, the population in the city will produce two-fold of the current 10,000 metric tons of garbage it produces every day. “After multiple roundtables with various stakeholders and community consultations, we feel that the MPD 2041, while comprehensively providing for solid waste management, needs to incorporate the key people involved in the labour of waste management: Informal waste pickers and through the provision of space for them.”
It adds, “Not doing so poses a risk to their participation and livelihoods. Over two lakh people and their families are dependent on waste picking. Hence, it is crucial that the gap between the real-time experiences and labour of waste workers and the facilities available for handling waste be addressed in the plan along with the implementation of SWM Rules, 2016.”

Releasing the report, Shruti Sinha, manager, Policy and Outreach, Chintan, said, The Master Plan 2041 has several firsts. It deals extensively with solid waste management and the mitigation of environmental pollution. It is clearly being recognized as the need of the hour. Even while mentioning the need to include waste pickers, it does not provide the ‘how to’ of it. We are talking about 2 lakh+ people here, who are the backbone of our survival and daily living.”
The report insists, a plan for the next 20 years must include formalized, safe and sheltered work spaces for waste workers in Delhi, pointing out, Chintan works with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi to make it a zero waste campus, where they have an allocated space for waste collection, segregation, storage and composting. Waste workers are given uniforms and gear to work and this space is sheltered.
Contrasting this with waste pickers in, say, Wazirabad, the report says, they “live in temporary and cramped shelters. Their home is also the exact place where they carry out waste work- where they live, cook, eat and raise their children. And in the rains these areas get completely flooded.” It adds, “Imagine the level of toxins floating or in the air. Do they not deserve a separate, safe space to work?” The locations covered in the survey in Delhi included Bhalaswa Landfill, Mukundpur, Seemapuri, Azadpur, Rohini, Palam, Rajnagar 1 and 2, Mahipalpur, Mayur Vihar, RK Puram, Seemapuri, Takia Kale Khan and Zakhira.

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