Sordid saga of solid waste managers
A drive in the early hours through city’s roads, lanes and by-lanes brings an exciting experience as the sights of scores of early birds rushing to their works, hundreds of uptown joggers sauntering along in stylish sports outfits, hut-dwellers swarming around tea stalls to sip steaming cup of morning beverage and, of course, at certain places a group of god-fearing men feeding flocks of pigeons.
Hyderabad: A drive in the early hours through city’s roads, lanes and by-lanes brings an exciting experience as the sights of scores of early birds rushing to their works, hundreds of uptown joggers sauntering along in stylish sports outfits, hut-dwellers swarming around tea stalls to sip steaming cup of morning beverage and, of course, at certain places a group of god-fearing men feeding flocks of pigeons.
But along with these refreshing sights come the sordid ones too. One cannot miss them, in torn and squalid clothes, deprived of proper bath for weeks, single and in group of two or three, carrying a huge jute bag and moving around the garbage bins and dump yards, searching for their livelihood – the solid waste left over by the sophisticated lots. They are rag pickers, children of lesser Gods.
These rag-pickers, young and old, men and women are engaged in the highly hazardous occupation of collecting solid waste, oblivious of the dangers involved in. They move around garbage dumps surrounded by dogs, pigs, bandicoots and countless flies in any extreme weather conditions and pick up solid waste without shoes, masks or gloves.
According to studies, each rag picker under Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation limits collects about 40 kg of waste per day. Every kilogram of discarded milk sachets or plastic earns them about 10 rupees whereas metal objects like zippers or cans get them 50 rupees per kilogram. Children scout through heaps of garbage dumps for solid waste that could earn them their bread and most often they eat the filthy food remnants they find in the garbage bins or in the dumping ground.
“They often play in the dumping ground and run the risk of getting into contact with needles, syringes, used condoms, saline bottles, soiled gloves and other hospital wastes as well as plastic and iron items. They suffer from many diseases, such as respiratory problems, worms, anaemia, fever and other problems which include cuts, rashes, dog bites and the like,” according to Prof K Syamala Devi, who did extensive research on rag pickers under GHMC limits.
According to a paper co-authored by Prof Syamala Devi, approximately two-thirds of a kilogram of waste per person per day is generated. As economic prosperity increases, the amount of solid waste produced consists mostly of luxury waste such as paper, cardboard, plastic and heavier organic materials. Besides compostable waste, the household solid waste consists of hazardous materials like tube lights, dry battery cells used in radio and torch etc, nail polish remover, blades, sprays and other miscellaneous items add to the waste.
These rag-pickers mostly migrated from other districts in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh sift through the sludge and waste, for milk packets, plastic bottles, metal caps, zippers, cartons, glass bottles etc. According to a GHMC official, rag pickers collect close to 60 per cent of plastic and metal from various points in the city. However, this unorganised and highly neglected group plays a key role in the solid waste management in the city.