Waste pickers rally against company

Civil Society News
New Delhi

WASTE pickers in New Delhi have made a business proposition that the municipal authorities should find difficult to refuse. They have said that they can generate more than Rs 12 crores a year from composting biodegradable wastes and save Rs 3 crores in transportation costs if their traditional role in garbage collection and segregation is recognised.

The offer comes from the All-India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh (AIKMM), a fledgling organisation of waste pickers. It is an effort to ward off privatisation and save the traditional employment of more than 100,000 unorganised workers. Currently these workers segregate about 20 per cent of the capital’s garbage. They provide this service free and earn from the recyclables that they take away.

The municipal authorities, in reforms mode, have been handing over waste collection and disposal to private companies.

The AIKMM offer follows a messy tussle over recyclable waste in the most posh parts of New Delhi under the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). Waste pickers say they are being pushed out by a Hyderabad-based company, Ramky Energy and Environment Ltd.

Ramky has since 2006 been under contract with NDMC to transport 250 tonnes of waste daily to sanitary landfills. NDMC looks after civic services in the core of New Delhi. Other areas of the national capital come under the Delhi Municipal Corporation (MCD).

The Ramky contract is worth some Rs 4.5 crores a year. But the waste pickers say that what the company really wants is control over roughly 80 tonnes a day of recyclables generated in the NDMC area,which at an average price of Rs 5 a kg could be worth as much as Rs 14 crores a year.

The recyclables don’t figure in the contract between the NDMC and Ramky because they are taken out by waste pickers. Any money made by the company from the recyclables would therefore essentially be outside the contract.

The waste pickers allege that they are being intimidated by Ramky and its agents. They complain that money is being extracted from them every month. Many have been chased away because they are illiterate and the company’s agents pretend to be acting in the name of the local government. Ramky has, without any authority, issued to a certain M/s Santosh Traders, asking it to take over the recyclables at the depots and bins.

After initial confusion, the waste workers have learnt to be organised in their resistance. With their mobile phones buzzing, AIKMM members turn up at depots and confront Ramky representatives. They have used the Right to Information (RTI) law to get out a copy of NDMC’s contract with Ramky.

The AIKMM also organised a public hearing at the Constitutional Club on 17 February. It got support from the Hazard Centre, Bandhua Mukti Morcha and Human Rights Law Network among others.

Civil Society spoke to Shashi Bhushan Pandit of AIKMM on the waste workers’ demands.

What is your complaint against the NDMC?

Traditionally waste pickers have made a livelihood out of the collection, segregation and recycling of waste in the NDMC areas. But for the past three years since 2006, a company by the name of Ramky has been harassing ragpickers at depots. The company has been given a contract to pick up waste from the depots and transport it to the landfill sites. But instead it has been laying claim to the recyclable garbage, which is the only source of income for waste pickers.

Company representatives regularly visit the depots and threaten our people, who are simple and mostly uneducated. They try to chase them away from the depots. Several have been forced to run away. When Ramky is not successful in doing this, its representatives demand money from the ragpickers. At present individual ragpickers are paying representatives of the company between Rs 6,000 and Rs 15,000 a month to buy peace. The amount varies depending on the kind of garbage that comes to a depot.

There have been several incidents. On 6 March last year, for instance, the Parliament Street police station had to intervene at a depot behind the Planning Commission. Ragpickers collected to protest when Ramky representatives tried to take over the depot and chase away Jhawar Bhai who had been at this depot for more than 20 years.

The police asked the Ramky representatives for proof of the depot being handed over to them. When they could not furnish it, they were told to leave.

What is the exact arrangement that Ramky has with NDMC?

What we now know thanks to the copy of the agreement we have got hold of is that Ramky gets from the NDMC Rs 4.60 crores every year for picking up the garbage at depots and depositing it at landfill sites.

But how does this affect your interests?

It should not but the company is trying to take over the role of the waste pickers because of the money it believes it can make over and above the contract by selling the recyclable garbage.

Ramky has in fact issued a letter to a certain Santosh Traders asking it to collect recyclables and pay Rs 2 lakhs a month. Ramky is not authorised to issue such a letter. The Rs 2 lakhs is also an arbitrary amount. The purpose seems to be to create a document which will confuse the issue. The letter is being repeatedly being used to browbeat the waste pickers, who are illiterate.

How much recyclable garbage is generated in the NDMC area?

It is our estimate that every day 80 tonnes of recyclable garbage is generated in the NDMC area. At an average rate of Rs 5 a kg this works out to Rs 4 lakhs a day. In a year it works out to Rs 14.4 crores. It is this money that the company is after.

How should the role of the waste pickers be recognised?

The Supreme Court has ruled that waste pickers have a role in maintaining the cleanliness of a city. They have traditionally played this role and need to be included in the plans of municipalities.

What are you suggesting to the NDMC?

The NDMC says its areas generate 250 tonnes a day. We say the figure is 250 tonnes plus the 80 tonnes of recyclables that waste pickers remove. Of this 170 tonnes is biodegradable garbage which can be turned into compost. If waste pickers are given the space, they can turn this biodegradable garbage into compost. The NDMC can earn more than Rs 12.24 crores a year from selling the compost at Rs 2 a kg.

This will also mean that 170 tonnes of garbage a day will not go to landfill sites. There will also be a saving on the cost of transportation. The NDMC currently pays Ramky Rs 511 per tonne of garbage that it transports. If 170 tonnes in the daily garbage are reduced through composting, the annual saving will be Rs 3.13 crores. This means, the NDMC will only have to pay Ramky Rs 1.46 crores a year.


March 2010 Edition
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