Reduce, reuse, reform: Waste workers demand better policies

Location IconBengaluru Urban district, Karnataka

“Earlier, I used to pick up waste from the streets and sell it to scrap shops,” says Indumathi, who now runs three dry waste collection centres (DWCC) in Bengaluru and employs 88 waste workers. In 2012, with the aid of nonprofits and the government, DWCCs were set up in Bengaluru to decentralise waste management and create employment opportunities for informal waste pickers. After collecting waste from the neighbourhood, these centres segregate and sell it to scrap shops for recycling. The money raised from recycling is the main source of income for the centres and its workers.

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bengaluru’s municipal corporation, provides the DWCC workers with identification cards and a permit to conduct door-to-door waste collection. However, its efforts have failed to go beyond this. “After seeing the success of the DWCC model, the BBMP decided to pay for a vehicle. In a few years the number of vehicles rose, but I paid for all of these by taking loans. The BBMP is yet to pay us INR 23,000 for these vehicles. We have been trying for more than a year to get this money and we have written to the chief minister and other officers, but I think we will just have to wait longer,” says Indumathi.   

She is glad that the workers are now getting ID cards. “ID cards give us legitimacy. People think we are thieves unless we have an ID card,” she adds. Further, most of the workers do not have documents such as school certificates to even apply for ration cards. A waste picker ID helps solve this problem.

However, Indumathi also employs migrant workers from Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and the BBMP is not keen on issuing ID cards to them. Since house rent agreements require an ID, migrant workers find it difficult to rent an accommodation. “I have helped construct a shed for them to stay in and it has separate washrooms for men and women,” says Indumathi, “but they certainly need a better place to stay.”

She hopes that the government can provide workers with accommodation that has basic amenities. She says, “The government should have scholarships for the education of our children. Travelling anywhere in Bangalore costs a minimum of INR 100; they should give us a bus pass.” Since the nature of their work exposes them to various illnesses, Indumathi believes that the government should also provide them with health insurance. “Since the beginning we have lacked government support. They look at us differently because we are waste pickers.”

As told to IDR.

Indumathi is a micro-entrepreneur who runs three dry waste collection centres in Bengaluru.

Know more: Read this article to learn how a government programme has helped small-scale fish farmers in Odisha.

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