Lesser waste will lead to more waste pickers: Chintan

Green NGO releases report on social and economic impact assessment of Delhi's proposed waste incinerator plants


Sarthak Ray | June 16, 2011

Waste-to-energy incinerators, scheduled to come up in Delhi by the end of this year, pose a threat to the livelihoods of the city's wastepickers, according to a new report Chintan, a city-based NGO.

'Waste-to-energy or waste-of-energy?', released on Thursday, is an assessment of the social and economic impact the proposed Ghazipur and Okhla incinerators could have on neighbouring settlements of waste pickers.

The report says that a 33-50 percent fall in the amount of waste available to these informal sector workers, due to diversion of the waste as refuse-derived-fuel (RDF), could severely impede these communities.

"However, counter-intuitively, it will lead to a swell in the number of waste pickers as people indirectly dependent on the waste economy may lose livelihoods," said Seth Schindler, one of the authors of the report. Forming a bulk of this spurt will be waste pickers-turned-entrepreneurs whose businesses are dependent on these communities. Former waste-pickers who run saloons, tailoring units, provision stores serving the settlement near the Okhla landfill will turn to their old profession.

Their employability, stifled by the lack of other skills, will cause the retrograde shift, the report contends on the basis of a survey conducted among almost all waste picking families in these locations.

Children, currently in school and engaged in waste segregation or collection on an irregular basis, may also be forced to drop out  to supplement their families' earning heads, the research notes.

"Almost all families in the three localities are directly or indirectly dependent on waste. It is the state's obligation to guard the interests of these people," Chintan's founder-director Bharati Chaturvedi said at the release.

Delhi high court lawyer and activist Ashok Agarwal said that the option of legal redress was open as there was a case pending at the Delhi high court pertaining to the waste management system of the city. "The workers' stand can be put in front of the court for orders to the government to protect their livelihood," he added.

The report claims that the workers handle most of the 7,500 tonnes of waste generated in a day by the city. While the feed capacity of the two plants will figure around 2,500-3,000 tonnes a day, Municipal Corporation of Delhi insists that the annual growth in waste, at 4-5 percent, would be enough to take care of the plants needed.

However, Chintan insists that the extrapolation of the figure is no where close to meeting the plants' needs and this would cause a serious deficit of the waste available to waste pickers.

Dr N P Majumdar of IL&FS Environment, the implementing agency for the Ghazipur plant, acknowledged the threat to the waste pickers' livelihood but suggested organisation and formalisation of the workers as a solution.

"If they are organised into SHGs and trained, they will assume the identity of formal business organisations. This would allow them to negotiate more efficiently with the government and private players in waste management for the very same livelihood they have now," Dr Majumdar stated.

The report also suggested two probable solutions for two varying situations:

- In case the project is scrapped, the focus should be on reduction and recycling, while the waste-pickers are enabled to upgrade their livelihood. It proposed the building of materials recovery facility at the sites and incorporation of the workers in all spheres of solid waste management. It also suggested a reduction of spaces for landfills by creating local sites for waste segregation in the different zones.

- If the plants do come up, then the waste pickers should be formalised and incorporated in the waste collection and segregation processes by the private players running the plants.

Chintan also strongly advocated that the incorporation of the workers be written into tenders mentioning specific terms and conditions and measurable performance standards.



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