Bangalore with a population of 95 lakh, spread over 800 sq. kilometers produces approximately 3000 tons of waste every day. The estimates of waste generation are not accurate, and can go upto 4000-6000 tons a day. The responsibility for the proper handling, collection, transportation and disposal of waste in the city lies with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike– Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP). The BBMP has a sanctioned staff of 12,000 for waste management in the city, but only 7000 are on the rolls. The citizen to staff ratio is a paltry 401:1. The present formal system of waste collection is thoroughly inadequate with many areas left uncovered, resulting in garbage piling up on street corners.
Sanitary workers aka Pourakarmikas are the backbone of the door to door waste collection. The responsibility of ensuring that the city is neat and clean falls on the shoulders of these workers. Like wastepickers, they are also silent environment crusaders. They need their due recognition. Their concerns if resolved will help the city to achieve its goal of efficient door to door collection of segregated waste, streamlining of its transportation to appropriate processing and sorting centers, zero litter on roads etc.
Few months ago a partner organization of Hasiru Dala requested to conduct a socio-economic survey of Pourkarmikas. The sample was very small. The study was further complemented by training of sanitary workers. Both helped us to identify challenges which the workers particularly those who are working on contract basis face. These include:
- Salaries being irregular, received once in two or sometimes three months,
- Near to none access of social security,
- Absence of safety gears,
- Taboos of caste and occupation, existence of informality in the public systems confronts them with frequent bashing by contractors (employers), police as well as the residents of the city.
- The absence of insurance and access to financial services makes them vulnerable to changing market conditions.
- One medical emergency in the family and their whole world comes crashing down, they get into the trap of taking loans at higher interest rates from their employers (contractors) or acquaintances and this makes sure that the vicious cycle of poverty continues.
With no occupational and social security available to these mute environmentalists, how can we as the residents and managers of the city expect them to perform efficiently. Sadly, whenever the formal and informal discussions on solid waste management take place, we rarely see the issues of sanitary workers being addressed. In most places their representatives are not even considered worth inviting. This shows complete lack of concern and lackadaisical attitude of both the local government as well as the citizens towards the workers.
We in Hasiru Dala chose to work with wastepickers and informal waste workers. Because we believe they are the most marginalized communities living on fringes of our modern day cities. Mitigation of their concerns is of utmost importance for us. We also understand that many of the current sanitary workers were erstwhile wastepickers and still have personal and occupational relationship with informal waste workers. But our capacities are limited. The question of informal waste workers is too big for us to grapple and taking up the cause of Pourkarmikas will stretch our existing capacities to extreme ends.
As a result we request citizens and relevant government and nongovernment institutions to understand their plight and empathize with their state. We all need to come together and support the sanitary workers to raise their voice and ensure that they are heard by relevant authorities. In addition to that we all should take it as a personal responsibility to ensure that representatives of sanitary workers are present in all forums where issues of solid waste management are being discussed. For us it is about having clean and green city, for them it is their livelihood. A collective acceptance of our failure to address their concerns will be a starting point. From there with their voices loud we together will be able to start finding answers to the pertinent questions. And that’s the need of the hour. Especially when we are at a juncture of finding innovative solutions to the problem of mismanagement of waste- their participation is mission critical.
Last but not the least, we in Hasiru Dala believe that if the workers including both sanitary workers and informal waste workers have predictable livelihood and social security, their worth is recognized and appreciated, there is every reason that they will perform efficiently and be upto the given standards.