Role of Waste Pickers in Solid Waste Management in Mumbai

Topics: Waste management, Waste, Recycling Pages: 12 (3965 words) Published: November 27, 2010
Role of Waste Pickers in Solid Waste Management in Mumbai

Nilesh Patil
M.Sc., M.Phil.

Touch N’ Glow
Common Bio-medical waste treatment & disposal facility
Palghar, Dist. Thane, Maharashtra

Currently about three quarters of the global population growth is occurring in the urban areas of the developing world, causing ‘hyper growth’ in cities not equipped to deal with this situation (UNCHS, 2001). As such over 300 million urban poor in the cities of the developing world live in extreme poverty, “with fewer options but to live in squalid, unsafe environments and facing multiple threats to their health and security” (World Bank, 1999, p.1). Despite the fact that cities, even those in the developing world, in the present era of globalization, have emerged as significant actors in the global economic and political arena, generating more opportunities, yet urban poverty continues to persist and is infact growing as trends indicate[1]. India is the country with the highest concentration of poverty in the world with about 320 million people, (35%) of the total population[2] falling below the government’s official poverty line. The Human Development Report 2005 puts India at 127th rank in a list of 177 countries and in context of Human Poverty Index, India is ranked 58th in the list of 103 developing countries. The growing incidence and concentration of urban poverty in Indian cities is indicative of the fact that the policies and programmes of the governments have not really been able to target and alleviate poverty owing to a number of reasons including the failure to understand the multidimensional nature of poverty. The issue of urban poverty is intricately related to waste (Gupta,2004). This statement indeed throws light on two aspects, one the fact that most urban poor live in deplorable conditions and second the fact that in developing countries and in urban India in particular more then a million urban poor(ibid)) find livelihood by engaging in waste collection and recycling activities within the preview of the informal sector and in a way are responsible for managing an average of about 15 to 20% of the city’s recyclable wastes that would otherwise add to the existing piles of waste and cause havoc given the current state of the formal municipal solid waste[3] management status in our cities. Popularly known as Rag pickers this segment of urban poor is one of the most disadvantaged communities and are the poorest of the poor[4] as also a very vulnerable segment of the population, vulnerable to health hazards due to their scavenging activities as well as vulnerable to exploitation and social stigma. Despite their significant role in waste management in a city, this group enjoys no recognition, no job security or any form of social welfare safety net. This invisible section of the society is not the target of welfare schemes and policies of the government. Their livability is a stark reflection of the harshness and the vicious circle of poverty that inflicts them. In context of this backdrop the study is an attempt to understand the multi dimensional nature of poverty and its impacts on livability taking the case of the rag pickers in Mumbai. The intention is also to highlight the role of the rag picker as sine-qua-non to a city’s waste management in the third world. The analysis of the multi dimensional nature is done within the preview of Amartya Sen’s five freedoms (Political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunity, transparency guarantees and protective security)[5]. However before analyzing the poverty issues, the following write-up broadly underlines the waste management scene in our current urban setup with the purpose of understanding the occupational character and the role of the rag picker in city’s waste management.

India’s waste management scenario
Despite the presence of legal rules and regulations[6] framed by the government from time to time and also some commendable but...
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