Guntur known for its chillies is set to become an important city. Residual state of Andhra Pradesh, after creation of Telangana, has chosen its capital to be in the area between Guntur and Vijaywada. Rapid urbanization is on its way. It is high time that the city starts upgrading its infrastructure and pursues the path of inclusive growth. I’m here in Guntur at the invitation of colleagues from Dalit Bahujan Resource Center (DBRC). They work on entitlement based issues including land rights for oppressed classes and marginalized communities. Last year, they decided to engage with wastepickers in both Vijaywada and Guntur.
Guntur, as per the estimates provided in the 2010 City Development Plan, generates around 350 Metric tons of waste every day. Out of which 310 MT is collected daily and sent off to the dump yard. Dump yard is located in Naidupet and occupies 72 acres of land. The dumping site is placed at a very scenic location, right at the bottom of hills with a small pond in neighborhood, which by the way provides water for many residents in the area.
To ‘scientifically’ manage the garbage mess Municipal body with state government has proposed ‘waste to energy’ plant. The City development Plan mentions that only 6% i.e. 20 MT of waste is recyclable, and rest is inert and organic 31 and 63 percent respectively. Anyone who has studied waste ecologies in India will call the estimated percentage of recyclables a farce. Real time data availed from the sample of more than 12497 households in Bangalore, provided by Hasiru Dala, states that 68.5 percent of waste is organic, 21 percent is recyclable and rest 10.5 percent is reject and sanitary. Proportion of recyclable material is higher than the estimates given by Municipal body. If that was not the case, city would not have had 1000 wastepickers running the informal waste economy on their shoulders. The higher percentage of inert on paper will be helpful in strengthening the argument for incineration, thus the proposition of waste to energy plant. ‘Waste to energy’ is based on incineration technology and has severe impacts on health, environment and economy. Instead of incineration a stronger emphasis on recycling will create a ‘win- win’ situation. It will help provide raw materials to the industry and support communities who are engaged in wastepicking.
In case of Guntur most of the wastepickers, unlike many other Indian cities, belong to ‘Schedule Tribe’ category. They are Yanadis, who were once upon a time forest dwellers and were forced out of forest through push and pull factors. Generations ago, they were based in Nellore and Chittoor and now spread across the whole state. After leaving forest life, their major vocation became hunting snakes and rats in the farm land, thus helping the farmers save their crops. Many of them were also engaged in scavenging. With changing times, their vocations have again changed but their social and economic conditions are still worst. Due to societal discrimination most of them live at the fringes of urban economy.
All the wastepickers we met in the dump-yard were Yanadis. When asked about their conventional vocation, they all firmly said –wastepicking. As far as their memories go, their parents and grandparents were picking and sorting waste. In past they were based in Old Guntur- Balaji Nagar, once the dump-yard there was shut, they moved to Naidupet.
The workers from Yanadi community who pick and sort garbage from the Naidupet stay few yards away. With temporary huts made out of palm leaves and flex banners, they have created a small niche for themselves and call it Ambedkar Nagar. It is an informal settlement with land belonging to government. There is always threat of eviction looming on their head.
During the visit we saw many children along with their parents in the dump yard. Literacy and education become second priority when the questions of next meal are unanswered. The other reason of children not going to school was that the government school allocated to the area of Naidupet is very far from their neighborhood. Local leaders like Srinivas and Pastor Manik Rao have not given up. They are keen to get children of the community educated. In a small church which they have constructed, classes for small children are held on daily basis. There are 30 students. They are pursuing their friends, neighbors and co-workers to send their children to school. It takes time to get everyone convinced as there will be lesser hands helping in work. Last year, according to Pastor Rao there were more than 70 students. Government was planning to shut down the Naidupet Government School as the number of children attending it was very low. To ensure the school continues its operations, Pastor agreed to send most of his students to the government school. Knowing that school is far and distance can result in drop outs, Srinivas- local leader of the community is sponsoring the auto travel of all school going children.
Coming to the queries around social security, most of the wastepickers we met today had no identity cards except few who recently got ‘Aadhar Cards’, but they don’t know what to use it for. Tummalankamma was the only one in the whole group who has a ration card. The ration card is of no use, as the Public Distribution System (PDS) shop is far away. According to her, they were recently called for Biometric identification, which she and her husband got it done. Apart from that she doesn’t know anything about it. The condition of the whole community is deplorable. Their earnings are meager –INR 500 a week i.e. equivalent to one dollar a day in which they have to survive as a family.
If a waste to energy plant is installed in the area. Most of the residents –Yanadis whose last resort for earning is wastepicking will go out of business. Guntur is on its way to become a part of capital region, which will be no less than a world class city, the local and state government should manage its waste properly and also ensure that those who are dependent on it don’t lose their livelihoods. They should get proper safety equipments, good pay for their work and strengthened social, food and health safety net. The amount which will be burned for installing incineration plant can do a lot better for Yanadis and further enhance the scale of recycling. To ensure that Yanadis get what they are rightfully entitled as equal citizens of India, colleagues in Dalit Bahujan Resource Center (DBRC) getting ready for long battle ahead.