The most affected section in the waste management process includes the unrecognised waste collectors who form the largest informal sector in the country.


New Delhi: Waste management is one of the biggest problems that the capital is facing. Despite a big workforce of waste collectors, scrap dealers and recyclers involved in waste management, the problem keeps aggravating with each passing day. The most affected section in the waste management process includes the unrecognised waste collectors who form the largest informal sector in the country.

These waste collectors usually have their communities made of 50-70 households who live together in settlements and all members of the family are involved in the same profession. Around 15-20% of the city’s waste is managed by these waste collectors. They go door to door, collect waste, carry the waste in handcarts and get them to their settlements where the waste is segregated. The dry and recyclable items and e-waste are then sold to scrap dealers, whereas the wet waste is either sold to farmers as fertilizers or for other purposes and what is left is taken to landfills.

Razaul Islam, a migrant from Assam, came to Delhi with his wife and three children nine years ago in search of a job to repay the debt that his father had taken in his village. Since he couldn’t find any other job, he started working as a waste picker like others from his village. He pointed out to bruises in his hand and said: “Every day, I collect waste from around 150 houses and then I separate things that can be sold to the scrap dealers. While segregating, I usually hurt myself with metal objects and very often I fall ill, but I can’t manage to skip work so I take medicines and keep working.” Razaul Islam earns around Rs 10,000 per month out of which he has to send Rs 5,000 to his father to clear off his debt.

Abdul, 35, another waste collector from the same village in Assam had his brother-in-law working as a waste collector in Delhi. Abdul came to join him in his work as there was no employment in his hometown. “We had a small farming land in our village, which we had to sell due to some problems. After that, I was jobless and so I decided to come to Delhi to join my brother-in-law in his work of waste collecting. It is not a good work to do, but somehow, I manage to send my children to school with this money. I want to return to my village for which I am collecting money with which I can buy our land back,” he said. Abdul lives with his wife and two kids.

The alleged negligence of these waste collectors by the government has only increased their woes. They don’t use any kind of safety gear like gloves or masks because it is unaffordable for them. While segregating the waste, they come in contact with materials like glass, sharp metal objects, medical waste like needles and syringes and other toxic substances that leave them vulnerable to a number of diseases. Not just that, when they get this waste to their settlements, the polluted air is inhaled by their family members, including their children who play around piles of trash around their homes.

According to experts, the informal sector in the city needs attention, especially with respect to the Centre’s Swacchh Bharat Abhiyan. According to a report by an environmental research group, the municipal authorities save up to 24% of their daily expenses because of the work done in the informal sector and so they do not show any concern towards these waste collectors.

Delhi-based environmentalist Dr S.K. Sarkar said: “The problem is that informal sector waste collectors do not have any association where they can put forth their concerns. Due to the large number of these waste collectors, it is also very difficult to manage their working at once. What needs to be done by the authorities is to set up an association for them and provide them with some incentives and recognition so that they can work with the Muncipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), but so far nothing has been done.”

Sunita Kangra, Mayor of South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), told The Sunday Guardian: “The waste collectors in the
informal sector are not the responsibility of the MCD as they are not connected to us. However, if they ever come to us with their grievances, we’ll definitely look into the matter and will try to
provide them with some safety gears, but they will have to come to us, we won’t go to them.”


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