The Dihadi Conundrum

Waste picking is itself a very stressful, under-appreciated and unrecognized profession. Even after, working 10-12 hours, rag pickers or waste pickers as now we call them, they struggle to put two squares meal on the table for their family.

No Other Option

It is something to think about that why even after working for long hours daily for 25-35 years, they are unable to come out of this vicious circle. Some people even say that “why don’t they [waste pickers] find something else to do.” But the reality is that most of the rag pickers do not want to be in this profession. When I interviewed some of the waste pickers of the Sangam Vihar, Najafgarh area, some were saying that they want to start their own shop or step a stall of vegetables.

But neither they don’t have the money nor they have the skills to implement their ideas. After hearing this, I suggested to them that why don’t they go to the bank for a business loan, thinking that they will be able to get a loan at a low-interest rate. On my this suggestion, they just drew a poignant smile. Now, when I think of that retrospectively, I realize that how stupid that question was. Because these people don’t have any kind of government identity card which means they are not even registered as the part of the country’s registered population. And I was there telling them to go to the bank for money. Most of the people who are in the profession of waste picking are there because they don’t have other alternatives available to them.

The Middlemen Problem

There is a very strong structural problem in the way waste pickers earn their income. For instance, there is a large number of local contractors who charge Rs.50-Rs.200 per month from households and up-to Rs. 2000 from the shops to get their garbage lifted from their doorsteps. To do this job, they hire local rag pickers to pick up the garbage. In return, the contractors merely give them merely Rs. 100 to almost nothing. Apart from this, some contractors also charge from the rag pickers they have appointed. They tell rag pickers that they are charging from them because they are allowing them to collect garbage from the area. As a result, they also charge money due to this rag pickers are not able to earn the amount which they deserve.

A group of rag pickers works under a local contractor who tells them to go out there and collect garbage either from the streets or houses of the particular area. After collecting the garbage, they give all the garbage to the local contractor.

No Solid Management Knowledge

Most of the rag pickers do not have the knowledge about the solid waste management. Due to this, they directly sell the accumulated garbage to the garbage buyers. As a result, they are not able to earn that much which they deserve.


A Profession without Dignity


 If recent estimates are to be believed, there are more than 1,00,000 rag pickers in Delhi who collect, sort and transport waste as part of the informal trade scrap. Apart from the health risks associated with the occupation, rag pickers are subject to humiliation and exclusion, leading to their marginalized status in the society.
Recognising this undue deprivation of the rag picker community, Adarsh Seva Samiti, in association with National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC), which is an undertaking under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, is working towards the upliftment of rag pickers and their children. The programme is currently operational in the Najafgarh zone of South West Delhi.
As a part of the programme, a survey is being conducted on the rag pickers residing in the Najafgarh zone, in which their personal details and information about the waste disposal mechanism is collected. Rag pickers covered under the survey will be provided with safety equipments such as goggles, masks, reflector jackets and gloves to ensure their protection from hazardous materials. They will also be equipped with effective solid waste management techniques which would strengthen their bargaining capacity and help them in getting the right value for the waste collected. A total of 1,000 rag pickers are to be covered under the survey, which is now nearing completion.
Makeshift schools have been opened to provide basic literacy skills to the children of rag pickers. These children aged from 5 to 14 years, will later be assimilated into the formal education system by facilitating their admission in nearby government schools for the new academic session. Children are also taught about the importance of maintaining hygiene and good habits.                                                                                                                      Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, formulated by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, GOI, call for the integration of rag pickers in the formal system. This is to be done by State Governments and/or Self Help Groups (SHGs). The aforementioned program by ASSI is a step towards realising this very goal.