Despite all efforts, the Waste Workers (unorganized sector) are excluded from the management.

Roundtable on Causes and Solutions

(Asian independent) Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has a major objective of achieving 100% Scientific Solid Waste Management (SWM) across all the statutory towns in India. The revised rules (Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016) continue to emphasise upon the need to ensure source segregation as the most important prerequisite for the scientific and environmentally sound disposal of solid waste. We have seen an extensive deployment of collection, transportation and waste disposal technologies across Indian cities in the recent past. In most cases, adoption of the technological choices (Waste-to-Energy – WtE) appears to be reinforcing a centralised system of SWM. Waste management practices such as decentralised composting of wet waste and promotion of recycling through source segregation have become secondary to the deployment of WtE driven waste collection and transportation infrastructure across several Indian cities. It is also observed that compliance to environmental norms has also not been followed by the existing WtE plants. People residing in the vicinity of these plants are constantly complaining of health risks associated with the operation of these plants near residential areas. It is widely reported that existing WtE plants continue to burn mixed waste despite a number of judicial interventions in favour of compliance to the environmental norms.

Despite these odds, waste pickers continue to play a key role in the primary collection and segregation of the solid waste informally. In most cases, the formal system of waste management does not recognise the contribution of waste pickers. These informal waste collectors provide their services to the residents and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) without any recognition of their immense contribution in environmentally sound ways of managing the solid waste. Their services are utilised by the resident either at very low cost or in many cases free of cost. Due to constant ignorance of the ULBs, informal waste pickers are often subjected to the exploitation by the 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 the solid waste. The quality of their lives and livelihood opportunities remain unchanged despite recognition of their immense contribution in the policy documents.  However, Waste pickers continue to get excluded from the waste management system. In several cases, waste pickers are thrown out of the city.

For the same, a Community Roundtable on 2 October, 2021 at MCD Baraat Ghar, Nizammuddin Basti, New Delhi from 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm was organised to deliberate upon the concerns and mechanisms. The Roundtable was attended by more than 100 waste pickers which included both men and women. The panelist included:

  • Mr. Rahul Karnamadakala Sharma- Centre for Policy Research (CPR)
  • Mr. Md. Mansoor Raza- Janpahal
  • Mr. Bhawani Shankar- Citizens for Clean Air, Gurugram
  • Baley Bhai- Independent Activist

The roundtable began with Mr. Shashi B. Pandit from DASAM who spoke about how the waste workers have not progressed since decades despite changes in laws or the administration. We were living in misery and continue to do so. He raised a question about why the waste workers are still kept away from the waste management system?

The first speaker was Mr. Mansoor Raza (Janpahal) who began the session about the need for recognition for the unorganised sector. An identity card for the unorganised sector was deemed necessary for which a long battle was fought. The Supreme Court passed an order to the Central Govt. in which it has to form an inventory of the unorganised sector.He further elaborated about the E-Shram portal and card and anyone from the unorganised sector aged between 16yrs to 59yrs can register for it. A phone number and the adhaar card needs to be linked with the bank to receive its benefits.

Mr. Bhawani from Citizens from Clean Air, Gurugram, showed a plastic bisleri bottle and said that we are from the category of people who produce waste. He shared a personal experience of his interaction with 3 siblings who were picking up waste. In his interaction, he asked the kids why they don’t go to school. The kids informed that they were beaten by the teachers as they used to pick up waste. He despaired at their condition and said that at the age where the kids should study and play, they were picking up waste for a decent livelihood and were scolded by the teacher. He further mentioned NREGA and the minimum employment guarantee in the rural areas which is not applicable throughout the country. Most of the workers migrate from rural to urban India in search of better livelihood and end up picking up waste due to no livelihood sources. Bhagani asked the workers to shift from being the workers unorganised to organised as their quality and quantity of work deserves dignity and respect.

Baley Bhai spoke about the exploitations that the waste workers face from the MCD and police officials where the workers have to pay them a small bounty to pick up waste. He said that the waste pickers are the real agents of ‘Swacch Bharat’ yet they are at the receiving end of exploitation and brutality.

Mr. Rahul Karnamadakala Sharma from Centre for Policy Research (CPR) began speaking about technology and Waste to Energy (WTE) plants. He said that the countries where the WTE plant is operated only in places where most of the waste is dry. In India, however, most of the waste generated is wet waste and burning waste is not a viable solution. He elaborated waste mining and suggested alternatives through which waste can be managed instead of burning it in incinerators. Rahul laid stress on decentralised waste management and its implication for the waste pickers.

Mr. Sidharth Singh from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) spoke about the SWM Rules 2016 which speaks about bringing the informal sector into the mainstream and involving them in the waste management system. He also spoke about the knowledge that the waste workers have about plastics and how it can be recycled whereas this knowledge is missing from the masses. In the end, he concluded by saying that the workers when united can bring changes and make their demands heard. whereas if they remain organised, their work will continue to be looked down upon and deprive them of the earnings and respect they deserve.

Mr. Sanjeev Kumar from DASAM spoke about the Swachh Bharat Mission, its second phase and how the workers who keep the city clean, live in hazardous and dirty environment. Despite living in central delhi, their neighbourhood is neglected. He concluded the roundtable by thanking the waste workers for their contribution towards the society and environment. The roundtable ended with the waste pickers sharing their grievances and daily day to day struggle.

Organized by:

Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM); National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM); Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG); Institute for Democracy and Sustainability (IDS); Ambedkarvadi Lekhak Sangh (ALS); National Domestic Workers Union; Magadh Foundation, Shehri Mahila Kaamgar UnionAll India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh (AIKMM)

For more information, contact: 9968413109, 8178959197; dashaktimanch@gmail.com

Ena Zafar

(she/ her)

National Coordinator

Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM)

Mobile: (+91) 8178959197

Email: enazafar.dasam@gmail.com