Self-employed waste collectors – or ‘corona warriors’ as they call themselves – in the metropolis are demanding a quick resolution of long-standing demands, which all political parties and civic officials have agreed to implement
Ashok Kumar | Clarion India
MUMBAI – Thousands of waste pickers in Pune protested on Monday by undertaking ‘thali bajao andolans,’ at scores of locations across the city, protesting against delays in payments.
About 3,500 self-employed waste collectors, who are members of SWaCH, a unique self-employed organisation representing their interests, launched a weeklong stir from Monday demanding a quick resolution of their long-standing demands.
“The Covid-19 lockdown has resulted in many residents of Pune refusing to pay the monthly fees to the waste-pickers,” Harshad Barde, director, SWaCH, told Clarion India on Monday. “We waited for long, with political leaders and civic officials promising to resolve the issues, but nothing has happened.”
According to Barde, the Covid crisis has resulted in thousands of residents refusing to pay the small amounts due to the waste collectors. And the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) too has not pitched in with the amounts due to the workers.
“All the political party leaders and the civic officials have agreed time and again that the issues raised by us are genuine and has to be resolved soon,” he notes. “However, they refuse to take a final decision and resolve our problems.”
The PMC had promised to compensate the workers for loss of income during the Covid crisis of the past nearly five months. According to Barde, while even government offices have seen a turnout of just around 10 per cent staff, 95 per cent of waste pickers have been on duty right through the Covid crisis.
Thousands of residents have not been able to pay the small sums – around Rs70 a month for a flat-owner, Rs50 for a hutment dweller and Rs140 for a shopkeeper – as their income sources have dried up or they had lost their jobs.
“That the system operated uninterrupted even through the pandemic and the lockdown is proof of its effectiveness and sustainability,” points out Barde. “We are not paid municipal employees, who enjoy a great deal of security. We are corona warriors who did not need to be told that our service is essential and perennial. We behaved extremely responsibly, putting our lives and the well-being of our families at risk in order to ensure that garbage was collected daily from homes across the city.”
Covid-19 has already taken the lives of five waste pickers, he says. SWaCH has demanded that the PMC pay waste pickers Rs30 per slum household a month and Rs10 per non-slum household for six months to cover loss of user fees.
It has also demanded life insurance cover of Rs2 lakh for all waste pickers of Pune, besides provision of personal protective equipment.
According to Barde, the partnership between the PMC and SWaCH is unique in India and saves the civic body about Rs100 crore a year. The cost of collecting waste through contractors would add up to Rs165 crore, Barde says citing official PMC reports.
Total amount paid by Pune’s residents to SWaCH adds up to Rs50 crore; the workers also separate the 2,100 tonnes of garbage that piles up every day in the city, he adds.