By: The Times of India
They comprise the 1,20,000-strong army that saves Mumbai from further environmental degradation. Yes, their livelihood is dependent on the 8,000 tonnes of waste that the megapolis spews out daily. But if it weren’t for their recovering, recycling and ensuring reuse of the waste (the three Rs of their difficult lives), this city would have been one big dumpyard.
Ragpickers’ working hours are spent in combing the city’s alleys, beaches, rubbish dumps and even diving into the foetid waters of mangrove swamps. Eventually they congregate at Dharavi, the world’s largest recycling unit where almost 80 per cent of dry waste is reused.
Now there’s an initiative afoot to bestow a fourth R on the ragpicker brigade—respect. The Acorn Foundation India Trust is set to organise these workers and train them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling. “We want to highlight their work in protection of the environment,” says Vinod Shetty of the Acorn Foundation. “We want the government to set up a board whereby polluters pay a cess of about one per cent which can go towards giving these ragpickers a proper income with safe equipment like gloves and other amenities. We want them to be trained in how to handle toxic waste and expertise in recycling goods in a non-hazardous way.”
For a start, all members of the Dharavi Project are being given identity cards. They have formed their own committee which is involved in waste awareness programmes. In one programme, young ragpickers are partnering with schools in waste management. Currently there are some 350 members of the Dharavi Project.
The foundation has also undertaken another initiative— to organise health clinics, programmes and workshops from which young children engaged in ragpicking can get some kind of informal education in music, photography and other arts. A number of artistes have participated in such programmes, among them singers Shankar Mahadevan, Sunita Rao and Apache Indian and Katrina Kaif. “Nearly 40 per cent of those in the waste business are children and women,” says Shetty. “We do not want to support child labour but realise that this sector needs alternatives. We hope such cultural events will help them think differently.”