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Communal division? Bengali Muslim waste pickers kept away from Swacch Bharat meet

By Sanjeev Danda* 

"Had I not been poor, I would not be collecting waste. If I could find work at home, I would not be in Delhi struggling to earn money", said Manju, a waste picker from Bhuapur, Ghaziabad in the Press Conference organised by Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) on the exclusion of waste pickers from the Waste Management System held at the Press Club of India, New Delhi.
Working for the issues of informal waste pickers in Delhi NCR, activists from DASAM, which has been working for the implementation of government policies on ground level for the benefit of the poor community, noted at the media meet that the exploitation of waste pickers are not limited to their occupation, but is also rooted in issues of caste, gender and religion.
Typically, Bengali Muslim waste pickers of Bhalswa were kept away from the Bhalswa landfill during the Government of India-sponsored Swachh Bharat Abhiyan celebrations on 2nd October.
The activists, backed by waste pickers, proposed that if the informal waste pickers are given space in the waste management system, the waste management process would become more efficient and environment-friendly.
Approximately, 50% waste is organic which can be converted to manure using natural methods and 30% waste is recyclable waste which can be brought to use without any treatment, they said. Around 80% of the waste can be managed by waste pickers without the need of incineration or waste to energy plants. This would relieve the economic burden from the government and lead to an ecologically sound waste management.
Dr Aparna Agarwal, Assistant Professor, OP Jindal Global University, who did her doctorate from Oxford university on the waste economy of Delhi, pointed out that waste pickers constitute approximately 1% of India’s workforce, and the 3- 4 lakh waste pickers in Delhi are informally working for the recycling of 15-20% of Delhi’s waste.
In a scenario where most of the waste in Delhi is not recycled but sent for incineration, waste pickers are the only ones handling waste in an environment-friendly manner, she asserted. However, they are not only excluded from the waste management system, but the Delhi government is increasing the informal workforce in the name of formalization through outsourcing the work to private companies.
Ayesha, a waste picker and community leader from Rithala, Rohini, appealed that the money spent by the government on private contracts should be invested for the welfare of waste pickers by providing them with ID cards, medical facilities, social security, etc.
Talking about privatization, Shashi B Pandit, Joint Secretary, DASAM, pointed out that the control over waste is now given to people who have no experience of dealing with waste, and people who have years of experience are excluded from the management system.
Shravan Kumar, an informal waste picker in the NDMC area, talked about the dual profit companies earn by taking money through contracts and also from the informal waste pickers who collect waste from sites. The waste pickers who are helping the companies through their informal work have to pay them money and face additional harassment from the authorities.
Ayodhya Prasad, an informal waste picker working in Ghaziabad, added that they are also not allowed to throw waste on the dumping sites by the authorities after segregation.
Recognizing the exploitation by the private companies, an employee of one such company working for waste management in Ghazipur, Delhi admitted before the media that the only goal of privatization is earning money and said that waste must not be used for generating money, but it should be used for public utility.
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*Dalit rights activist

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