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Ghaziabad local body ostracizes waste pickers, appoints contractors 'violating' 2016 rules

Shashi Bhushan, Ashni Tyagi* 

In 2016, the Government of India changed the Waste Management Rules which were being implemented for 15 years. The rules have demarcated certain responsibilities and accountabilities for the executive institutions. However, the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation (GMC) is silent about them since 2016.
In 2022, three out of five zones of the GMC were given over to private firms in the name of ‘waste management’. For this, GMC receives money. According to the rules which are being violated, the one who works according to the guidelines is the one who has to pay, too.
Under the 2016 rules, it is the responsibility of the municipality to do the work and not to get things done. Yet, GMC is the only executive body in India that is taking money from contractors. The aim of these contractors is only to make as much money as possible.
We know that working in the garbage is no less than a challenge. According to an estimate, a person who works and lives in the garbage lives only a half of her or his life. From this, you can guess how risky the work is.
Waste pickers play a vital role in waste management. Their contribution and importance are recognized in the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). The Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016 recognize them as ‘labourers’ and insist on their involvement in the management of waste. Yet, in Ghaziabad, more than 5,000 waste pickers are employed without any social security schemes and government provisions.
Despite these odds, waste pickers continue to play a key role in the primary collection and segregation of solid waste informally. This is because, in most cases, the formal system of waste management does not recognize the contribution of waste pickers.
These informal waste collectors provide their services to the residents of GMC, as in other and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), without any recognition of their immense contribution to environmentally sound ways of managing solid waste. Their services are utilized by the resident either at a very low cost or in many cases free of cost.
Due to constant ignorance of GMC, informal waste pickers are often subjected to exploitation by contractors in the waste management system at multiple levels. Their livelihood entirely depends upon the sale of recyclables that they recover from the segregation of solid waste.
The 2016 rules recognize that waste is no longer “waste” but a resource that needs to be recovered. That's why a new terminology was used in the new rules -- Material Recovery Facility (MRF). It is clear from this that now waste is considered a resource.
About 50% of the total waste is organic waste, which is composted, 30% goes to the recycling factory in the form of raw material, from where new material is made and used for our needs. Annually 1,63,000 metric tons of waste is produced in India, which has to be managed environmentally. Of this, 50,000 metric tons of waste is recycled.
Yet, the waste pickers’ quality of their lives and livelihood opportunities remain unchanged despite their ability to immensely contribute to the policy documents. They continue to get excluded from the waste management system. In several cases, waste pickers migrate to other states.
For the last 6-7 months, due to the hiring of the contractors in Ghaziabad, the waste pickers face ostracism, as they belong to the Dalit community, a marginalized group which is facing harassment at every step, making them even more marginalized. If the situation persists this could lead to something big. Initially, it was just the contractors who would harass the waste pickers, but now the officials of the municipality too have joined in.
Approximately 10 days back one of the contractors in Ghaziabad confiscated rickshaws and harassed waste pickers. In order for waste pickers to get back their rickshaws and the ‘waste’ material, they have to pay some amount to the contractors. But even after payment of the amount, these were not given to them back, hence they lost their employment and their earning for days.
The Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikari Manch (DASAM) has demanded to stop such harassment of waste pickers, and constitute a Grievance Redressal Cell, as stated in Sec 15 and 23 of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.
Under the notification of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change number GSR 451 (E), dated the 3rd June 2015 in the Gazette of India, part II, Section 3, sub-section (i), it is possible to raise objections or suggestions on behalf the persons likely to be affected.
Thousands of tons of garbage are generated daily in the GMC area. Thousands of Dalits, tribals, and minorities migrate from villages to cities for employment. They have been running this system. But now henchmen of these contractors from Ghaziabad are forcing the waste workers out of work.
*Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikari Manch (DASAM)



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