[Above image taken from The Wire]

[Credit: Istiaq Wani]

Here, at JUNKART, we work with the kabadiwalas almost on a daily basis. Through all our interactions with them, one thing keeps bothering us: why is that these people, who collect waste from almost every house in Delhi, have no recognition as workers/ employees/ entrepreneurs?

The Downcast Life Of a Rag Picker in Delhi

Make no mistake. These manual scavengers and kabadiwalas may be doing what they do for money, but there is no consideration of their security; their profession itself is not recognized! Any accident that occurs to them while transporting waste, or any hazardous waste they come into contact with, is strictly their liability. So, like all responsible citizens, we ask: what is the government doing?

Welcome to the Trash Mountains of New Delhi

New Laws, Same Story

Among the many waste management laws the Government passed in 2016, the Centre also stated the below:

Integration of waste pickers/ ragpickers and waste dealers/ Kabadiwalas in the formal system should be done by State Governments, and Self Help Group, or any other group to be formed.

So, the State Government is to do the work. The question is, one year later, have they?

The SWM rules recognise waste pickers as an integral part of sanitation and state they be given identity cards and spots to segregate waste. Waste pickers are still waiting on these promises. According to Jai Prakash Chaudhary (Safai Sena; an NGO-initiated waste pickers' association in Delhi), this had to be implemented in a year, but Yogender Singh Mann (Public Information Officer; North Corporation, Delhi) told News18 that the first step to integrate this labour force into the formal sector is to get land from the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi government to create the segregation spots.


Central Government Announces Waste Segregation For Delhi-ites

The electronic waste sector in Delhi is even more worse off. A May 2017 photo-essay-documenting the work spaces and the workers themselves-in the e-waste dismantling centre of the city, Seelampur, will leave you speechless. No matter how pricey your gadget is, their end is a dangerous and dirty affair, polluting the environment and killing the workers, but slowly.

E-Waste in India is going to increase by 30% till 2020

The Wrong Rates

Policy changes in the meantime, have affected the kabadiwalas for the worse. The GST, while an admirable move, had however imposed a 18% tax rate on glass, rubber, plastic and electronic wastes and a 12% tax rate on paper waste. Later in October, the government rolled back the taxes; now it is:

Plastic waste 5%

Paper waste 5%

electronic waste 5%

Glass waste 5%

Rubber waste 5%

Apart from e-waste (6%), there was no tax rate applicable on the other types of scrap. The problem in this is that, ultimately:

The lower level dealers are not formalised and exempt from GST and the customers/ waste generators too don’t have a GST number so the large dealer has to not just pay higher tax rates on his own margin but also for the value he purchases the scrap at from all the links in the chain below.The recyclers also do not want to increase the final selling price of recycled goods in order to make it competitive to goods made from virgin material.

So, what the large scale dealer is doing now is buying scrap at lower prices from before and in turn, the mid and small level dealers are also buying the scrap at lesser prices thus reducing the rate the kabadiwala and rag picker get


Is there any silver lining?

For that, we will have to get away from the capital. Specifically, Bhubaneshwar in Orissa. Here, a local NGO (CCWD; Center for Child and Woman Development) worked with another organization (Practical Action) to make the local municipality recognize the informal waste pickers in the city. Finally, they met with success.

The municipality agreed to provide valid identity card to the informal waste pickers and also some additional benefits in terms of safety and social security was assured. Though the project is over but a constant supervision has led to a number of 755 informal waste workers being provided with the identity card. They are now recognized as laborers in other category and this makes them eligible to get benefits from various government schemes.

[Practical Action]

What is the rest of India waiting for?