We appreciate the support!, say waste pickers who protect the health of the city despite all odds.
Rekha was in for a big surprise this morning. As she walked into Parijat colony, SUS Pashan road for her daily waste collection rounds, she was greeted by applause from the local residents who were standing on their balconies and doorways. The surprise got even more special as she was handed a garland made with Rs. 100 notes adding up to over 2800 rupees.
This comes at a time when many waste pickers are struggling to recover their wages which are drying up due to the corona virus shut down. “Many cannot make any money as recycling is also not happening and we cannot pay for our day to day groceries”, she says, “But when our work is valued we are encouraged to do better with renewed vigour. The applause is something that will resonate in my ears longs after the fear of Corona has vanished. That the residents, of their own volition, helped in such a concrete way is something I will cherish”.
Not everyone is so fortunate though and Shanta Nana Shendge who has spent most of her lifetime working in waste recycling and earning a living from it, is unable to earn a living. “Waste picking, sorting and recycling is not easy work but it paid for our daily needs and kept food on the table. I have never seen anything like this and there is nothing to be done. I don’t know how we and people like us will survive” she says.
The Corona Virus pandemic has disrupted life everywhere and while most are worried about how to get food, they can at least pay for it if it is available. For waste pickers who are dependent on waste recycling everyday have no money to pay for their daily needs. Sorting waste could be a health hazard and the scrap dealers are also shut for business leaving no options for waste pickers.
The city is sensitive to the needs of these brave warriors and several people have come forward with help. From rations to cooked meals there have been some help forthcoming to some of the waste pickers. “A little compassion from everyone will go a long way,” says Suman More, chairperson of the board of SWaCH. “However those working in slums have in fact had to be compassionate and accommodating themselves as they continue to work despite not getting even their rightful dues. The residents themselves do not have any work and have not paid for waste collection. We can fight this battle only if we are supported by the citizens. No battle was ever won on a hungry stomach and we hope we do not have to do so either”.
“After completing a month’s work sincerely we still have no hope of being paid for it, but we continue to work as otherwise the city health and all of us will suffer.” says Shanta. SWaCH coordinators have been trying to request people to pay but to no avail.
While some help has come from Nagarsevaks in the form of groceries or in some cases food packets and snacks, it is not equitable or across the board for the over 3500 waste pickers. Other forms of help shows up as members of SWaCH being allowed to collect waste from the gate or a central place so that they do not have to go from door to door for collection. As the initial disruptions due to overnight changes in structure and the lack of clear govt. guidelines and transportation settled, service has been resumed on even keel. Even now, despite the letters from SWaCH and the identity cards etc, many cannot get fuel easily to reach their place of work.
“With shops and hotels also closed down, we have a slightly lighter load rom these places, but it also means that we have to wait to be paid our regular fees till they open for business hopefully. Some home owners have also locked up their homes and gone elsewhere and in some cases and we do not know when they will be back. We need support in the interim and this support from our residents and leaders helps keep our morale and our kitchen fires burning”, says Suman Devidas Jadhav who services some commercial establishments, along with homes.
SWaCH has been training and informing members on best practices and provide PPE to the members to enable safety during work. Citizens are being asked to also segregate and those in Self Quarantine are being serviced by the PMC directly to reduce risk to the waste pickers as well as stem the spread of Corona Virus. Access to water taps for hand washing being requested at places of work and sanitizers being provided for safety.
To make contributions of support to SWaCH waste pickers you can call 9765999500 or visit the website www.swachcoop.com for the link.