Kabadiwalas and ragpickers in the capital have found themselves sidelined by the draft municipal solid waste rules 2013 which does not recognize their contribution to the city’s waste management.
Despite playing a major role in collection and recycling of waste in cities, their work is mentioned only once in the draft rules which say the municipal body can engage agencies and groups “including ragpickers” in collection of waste from homes, leaving it to the sweet will of the corporation to decide whether or not they will avail their service at all.
The community is also disturbed by the portrayal of waste-to-energy plants in the draft as one of the main methods of managing waste.
Apart from serious air pollution concerns, members are concerned that this would lead to “privatization” of waste management. The All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh organized a meeting on Wednesday, also attended by waste management experts, which thrashed out a set of demands.
Instead of leaving all aspects of waste management to municipal bodies, which ends up in it being transported to landfills, the meeting focused on “decentralizing” the process and dealing with the waste at the ward level.
However, experts say it will take time to be implemented. At the core of this process is waste segregation at source which is currently not being practised in Delhi. While dry waste can be handed over directly to the ragpicker by residents, wet waste may be recycled to compost. This will not just protect the waste handling community but also reduce investments in pollution-causing waste-to-energy plants. All residents need to do is not mix dry and wet waste since that makes extraction of usable waste nearly impossible. “It’s also very undignified for us to sort out usable things with our hands from the filth,” said Meena, a ragpicker.
“Collection and segregation of waste can obviously be done by ragpickers. There seems to be class bias in the way the rules don’t acknowledge the existing waste management players. Why only private companies? It’s the primary right of the unorganized sector to continue work as ragpickers,” said Ravi Agarwal, founder director of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.
Okhla landfill used to have 300 to 400 people working to recover usable waste but now only about 80 ragpickers go there since the work of managing waste has gone to private companies. “People who make these rules focus only on the emission standards and the environmental aspects but not at the social cost. Waste can be managed safely by the informal sector,” Agarwal said.
“The Central Pollution Control Board’s technical evaluation has already shown that these plants release dioxins and furans which are extremely toxic,” he added.
“We are demanding that ragpickers be given the responsibility of collecting and segregating waste. We have already found that 80% of waste is usable and 30% is recyclable. Then why should waste be sent to the plants? The process should be decentralized and composting should be encouraged,” Shashi Bhushan of the Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh said.