Don’t privatise waste, plead rag-pickers

By IANS, New Delhi : Mohammad Nazur and his wife, who used to earn Rs.250-300 a day by rummaging garbage for junk and waste, are protesting – along with 5,000 other waste pickers – against the privatisation of waste, a government move that forces them to sell at a lower rate.

“My wife and I live a life of dignity. We don’t beg, but work for a living, so what if it is collecting waste? We were happy with our earnings. But after the privatisation, we are forced to sell the collected junk to a dalal (middleman) at a much lower price. We hardly make Rs.150 now,” said Nazrul.

Support TwoCircles

Wearing tattered clothes and holding banners at the Jantar Mantar in the capital Tuesday, rag-pickers have chosen the International Labour Day to make their voices heard.

The privatisation, which is operational in six zones of the capital and functional for two years, has been taking a toll on the rag-pickers. From collecting waste to segregating and sending it back to factories for recycling, the entire process was taken care of by individual waste-pickers until private industries stepped in.

Now the waste collected by the waste pickers from homes and colonies are bought at a cheap rate and the segregation process is taken care of by private companies. Nowhere in the process is the waste-picker involved.

“Why is that so? We demand that these 300,000 people, whose livelihoods depend on collecting, segregating and sending waste for recycling, should be involved in the process now as well,” said Lavanya Marla of Chintan, an NGO supporting the cause.

The Delhi Waste Management (DWM), for instance, is a private company with a contract of Rs.3 billion. In contrast to the 20 percent segregation of waste that it is required to do, individual rag-pickers pick and segregate as much as 25-59 percent of waste from an area daily.

“The Connaught Place area is not yet privatised. Hence I still get Rs.24 per kilo of empty bottles in contrast to Rs.7 that my counterparts in privatised areas like R.K. Puram get,” said Vishnu Gupta, a junk dealer in the Palika Bazar area of Connaught Place in central Delhi.

“He is lucky. I sometimes get just Rs.4 for a kilo of waste from the middleman. The rate is not fixed and if we complain, we are sometimes beaten up. Even the police doesn’t help us,” lamented another waste-picker.

But with private companies like Ramky Industries vying for areas like Connaught Place and Karol Bagh now, Gupta’s happy days may be numbered.

“We will fight for our rights,” say the protestors, under the banner of Bhartiya Kabari Mazdoor Adhikar Manch, which is supported by NGOs like Bal Vikas Dhara, Chintan and Sycom Projects.