Category Archive : ACORN India

Letter from Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer

This is a short request for you to do something simple that makes a difference: sign a petition!

We are asking you to stand with our members in Delhi who are being  hammered by the preparations for the Commonwealth Games which will be held in India for the first time this October. We are asking you to join us in opposition to the Indian Government’s displacement of thousands of slum dwellers in East Delhi and their attacks on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of informal workers from rag pickers  to bicycle rickshaw pullers all in the name of burnishing the image of Delhi as a world class city and attempting to sweep the poor off the streets and byways to make them invisible to athletes and guests at the Games.

We are asking representatives of the Commonwealth Games Federation to assure that we receive justice as well as the sponsoring committee from various countries sending teams to compete from area that were formerly part of the British Empire. We are sending these petitions to anyone who will listen, including the Queen, in a plea for justice before tens of thousands lose homes and jobs because of the Games.


Join us by signing the petition at

ACORN Hawkers Union stages protest

Members of the ACORN Hawkers Union along with many other unions organized a sit in demonstration on 21st June 2010 in Delhi in support of the Commonwealth Games Campaign and against displacement & harassment that have been occuring across Delhi as officials prepare for the games.

The protest was led by the Delhi unit of the National Hawkers Federation.

Labour Endorsements

The 60,000+ member British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) in Canada, became the first major labor organization to pass a resolution of support for workers and slum dwellers in East Delhi receiving justice and protection from loss of housing and livelihood from the upcoming Commonwealth Games.  They were followed only days later by the Prince George District Labour Council (British Columbia, Canada).

This is an important victory and important early step in moving the campaign forward.

We hope to announce more endorsers soon.

Reserve fund being used for CWG?

The cost of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) will be borne by the poor and the socially underprivileged of the city, it seems.

According to a report released by the NGO, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) on Thursday, Rs 265 crore from the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (Special Component Plan) for Delhi has been diverted to the CWG fund in the year 2009-10.
“If one looks at the diversion of funds since 2008 the amount is much more, in the range of Rs 550 crore,” said Miloon Kothari, coordinator, HLRN.

The report demanded an independent enquiry into the transfer of funds.

The Delhi Finance Minster, AK Walia, refused to say anything on the issue. “I cannot say anything regarding this at the moment. I will have to check the records before responding,” he said.

The report, called Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?, also condemned the Games for being anti-poor .

“The money that is being used to beautify the city should have been used to provide housing for the poor,” said Kothari.

The report also gives the example of governments of New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago, which did not support the CWG bid of their sports authorities as the Games would prove too costly.

“The benefit of the games will go only to corporates, especially the real estste conglomerates. The poor people will not get anything,” said Dunu Roy, director, Hazards Centre.

India’s bid document for the CWG estimated the cost of hosting the games at Rs 1,899 crore but official estimates have put the cost at Rs 10,000 crore, the report states.

“The streetscaping project in Lodhi Roadcost Rs 18.55 crore, twice the amount had bid for the entire beautification plan. Why?” said Shalini Mishra, co-writer of the report.

The report was released by Justice AP Shah, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. He condemned the government for ignoring the poor of the city.

Times of India: Games Leave No Room in DU Hostel

Neha Pushkarna | TNN

New Delhi: Hostellers in Delhi University colleges on north campus will be making a big sacrifice for the Commonwealth Games. For almost three months, they will attend classes as day scholars in the next session. They don’t have a choice. Six colleges have asked students to vacate the hostels by the end of this month so that renovation can take place to make these buildings fit for players to stay during the Games.

The only consolation for the ousted students is that on returning to their rooms in the second half of October, they will find the accommodation far more comfortable than at present.

Before that, however, nearly 2,000 affected students will be forced to look for lodgings elsewhere when the new session begins in July. ‘‘We have been asked to vacate the rooms by the last week of May. So I will be looking for lodgings in either Vijay Nagar or Hudson Lane. With so many others also hunting for accommodation, finding a place is going to be tough,’’ said Siddhartha Jain, a second-year student of BCom (honours) in Shri Ram College of Commerce. The college has asked hostellers to vacate rooms within three days of their last exam.

This is the first time the government is providing any grant for renovation of hostels. Obviously, colleges found the offer hard to resist. All colleges on the campus, which are going to be venues for rugby tournaments, have got grants from the government through UGC ranging between Rs 40 lakh and Rs 1 crore for upgrading the hostels. This is over and above the funds released for furnishing.


SRCC, Hindu, Ramjas, KMC have ordered students out of hostels till the Games end

Hans Raj and Daulat Ram are still trying to find a way out

At St Stephen’s and Miranda House, however, students may stay put There are a total of around 1700 seats in college hostels at North Campus But the number of students in the hostel exceed the number of seats since many rooms had to be shared after OBC quota was implemented RENOVATION AHEAD OF CWG Colleges promise swankier hostels

New Delhi: Several Delhi university colleges have asked their students to vacate hostels as they plan to renovate them in time for the Commonwealth Games.

Nishant Pandey, a firstyear BA student in Hindu College, said students had been asked to return only after October 20. ‘‘We have started booking rooms since rents are expected to shoot up in view of the increased demand in the next session,’’ he said.

Chandrachur Singh, warden, Hindu College Hostel, said colleges couldn’t afford to miss this opportunity. ‘‘It’s a painful decision for us. But the maintenance of hostels was also long due. We have managed the hostels only with the fees charged from the students which is just about adequate to meet the electricity and water bills.’’

‘‘A lot of work needs to be done and it may easily take three months,” Singh said.

The colleges will be mostly working on

the flooring, providing new beds and upgrading bathrooms to international standards. SRCC principal P C Jain called it a blessing in disguise. ‘‘I agree students may have problems staying elsewhere from July to October but they will return to swanky accommodation,’’ he said, adding that the college has got Rs 40 lakh and more funds were on the way.

Tanvir Aeijaz, warden at Ramjas College, suggested students could stay with local guardians. ‘‘The new session will begin only in the last week of July. They will have to manage only through August and September since they may have vacations in October again,’’ he


Every year, students have to re-apply for a room in the hostel which is based on merit. Aeijaz said Ramjas may allot rooms at the time of admission this year but the students will be accommodated only after the players have gone. On the other hand, Hans Raj College may only give hostel rooms to seniors and not the new students. ‘‘We still have to decide. It is likely that we may not allot rooms to the first year students and accommodate around 80-90 senior students alone,’’ said principal V K Kawatra.

Residential students at Miranda House and St Stephen’s will, however, stay put. ‘‘We are not renovating the six residential blocks as we do not have a bursar who is the financial officer. We will give our hostels to players in the same condition as they are now,” said St Stephen’s principal Valson Thampu. Miranda House principal Pratibha Jolly said the students will return to the hostel in July even as renovation work continues.

Dharavi: Rags to relief

By Preeti Pooja

The snapshots of filth and fantasy in the biggest slum of Asia – Dharavi is by now a much romanticized subject on celluloid to capture the wide canvas of a shantytown and the struggle, hope and hopelessness of its over one million residents.

Dharavi is home to vital unorganized industry workers, mostly children, who sift and collect 8.5 metric tons of filth, garbage, plastic, metal and scrap everyday.

Most of these rag pickers, come as migrants from every part of India. They often live in conditions worse than that in refugee camps. Many are malnourished. They are constantly exposed to hazardous toxins and diseases.

Their subhuman living conditions provides little access to basic education, sanitation, water, electricity and healthcare. Dharavi has severe problems with public health, due to inadequate toilet facilities, compounded by the infamous Mumbai flooding during the monsoons.

This is also a place where Mumbai’s underbelly of drug peddlers thrives. Low house rents and access to livelihood like rag picking has attracted minorities and the poorest of poor from different states to Dharavi. The economy here is based on recycling besides some pottery, textile factories and leather units. Dharavi is home to more than 15,000 single room factories.


But Dharavi is not just a haunt of film and documentary makers on a bounty hunt of poverty and filth as creative ingredients. Some NGOs have chosen to work here to better the living conditions of many of its uncared for residents.

Acorn Foundation (India) is one of them. The Acorn Foundation (India), which is affiliated to ACORN International, is supporting, Dharavi Project India. They are working to improve the lives of the rag picker community in Mumbai besides Delhi and Bangalore. Acorn is also doing extensive study on urban solid waste management in Mumbai and trying to implement actions to alleviate this issue.

Vinod Shetty, an advocate by profession, is actively involved with Acorn Foundation (India). Mr. Shetty narrates some of the heart-rending realities of life in Dharavi.

“Any big city survives on the services of rickshaw pullers, sweepers and rag pickers. It’s them who are at the bottom of the pyramid and ensure that the city keeps running. The society must acknowledge to the services of these people who live without any social security,” says Mr. Shetty.

Acorn firmly believes that this community of unorganized labourers is an invaluable human resource to the city.

“Mumbai would have been reduced to a dumping yard creating havoc with serious sanitary issues had there been no rag pickers who recover, recycle and ensure reuse of the waste,” he says.

ACORN, under the Dharavi Project, tries to organize this vulnerable section and train them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling.

Currently there are 35 members of Dharavi Project working at different levels of recycling. Some of the initiatives taken by Acorn Foundation (India) are like providing informal schooling to the children. ACORN organizes health clinics, cultural programmes and workshops where the beneficiaries learn music, photography and arts.

Celebrity shows and concerts like BOxette are also a part of the initiative to bring a crumb of entertainment to the disadvantaged community. In a recent eco fair organized in the Maharashtra Nature Park, presence of celebrities like Katrina Kaif, Shankar Mahadevan and Suneeta Rao spiced up the event.

One of the most exciting programmes of the Acorn Foundation is in association with Mumbai’s popular nightspot Blue Frog. Musicians and celebrity rock bands conduct workshops for these children.

Recently the international BeatBox group, the Boxettes, (beatboxing is vocal percussion) held workshops for the children while the Sout Dandy Squad (Tamilian rappers) performed with several international artistes too.

“The purpose behind these events is clearly to showcase local artistes and give the youth of Dharavi a chance to witness international artistes up close which they never dreamt of. They bring cheer among these children, though short lived. The musical celebration is often themed with graffiti art and sculpture,” says Mr. Shetty.

Acorn has provided the members of the Dharavi Project with identity cards and recognition. They have formed their own committee to conduct waste awareness programmes.

“One programme is exclusive for children who are taught about waste management in primary schools.  Under this programme students are given lessons on how to reduce and manage waste at home,” he says.

Besides entertainment, Acorn also organized multimedia campaigns on Water Day, highlighting issues of water conservation, water filtration and use of renewable energy sources.

Acorn Foundation (India) entrusts the faith within these rag pickers to make them feel a part of the society and live the life of a respectable citizen.

For details visit Acorn Foundation’s (India) Website:


Visit from the US Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer

The US Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer, and his wife Sally, visited our ACORN India ‘Dharavi Project’ on May 11, 2010. The US consul general in Mumbai, Paul Flomsbee, who has previously visited the project, was also present. Roemer was interested in seeing how the Dharavi rag-picker community contributes to the ecological well-being of the city, and how the Dharavi Project enhances their livelihood.

Roemer was given an overview of the Dharavi Project’s mission and activities, and then provided a tour of the non-profit’s newly-commissioned office and waste segregation center, a paper recycling facility, and the massive waste collection area nearby. During the visit, Roemer personally interacted with rag-picker members and recyclers, as seen in the first picture below, and even played a quick round of cricket with rag-pickers kids while balancing on one of the massive pipelines leading out of the city. Two members of the rag-picker community, Rafique and Lakshmi, shown in the third picture below, described their work to Roemer. Finally, Roemer tried his hand at one of the paper recycling machines.

Roemer learned about how the Dharavi Project program in Mumbai organizes 400 or so rag-picker members, gives them identification, and runs relevant waste management and cultural programs with 30+ schools, artists and even some corporates. The Dharavi Project also works closely with the American School of Bombay on a ‘waste matters’ campaign that helps the school kids manage their waste and donate a portion of it to the rag-pickers. Roemer expressed his support for a similar program with the new US consulate facility in Bandra Kulra Complex.


Giving ragpickers the fourth R

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.”


Garbage is not a dirty word

With the help of kids, Vinod Shetty is getting the city to show some respect to rag pickers, reports Kevin Lobo

    Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, is the last place you’d associate with environmental conservation. But as the world celebrates Earth Day today, Vinod Shetty, founder of NGO Acorn India, is out to prove how the rag pickers of Dharavi are one of the main cogs in the wheel for recycling the city’s daily output of 10,000 tons of waste. With the help of about 450 kids, a sizeable amountof whom are rag pickers, Vinod plans to change the perception of this city. 
These kids will paint together, make paper bags together, and watch documentaries together. To add star value to the event, Shankar Mahadevan will lend some glitter. The highlight of the day will be the sight of kids from diametrically opposite backgrounds grooving together to music by Ankur Tewari and Something Relevant. 
 But change does not happen overnight. Vinod runs a waste management programme in 35 schools in the city. “The same kids who have been trained to think that the kachra dabba is dirty take pride in joining the waste management committee,” says Vinod. 

    The 40-something advocate has been running this programme for the past two years to educate kids about the plight of these green-collar workers. “We were trying to get the BMC to clean the waterfront at the Bandra Bandstand. One lazy evening at my house in Chimbai village, there was this group of people cleaning the place up for free. There was no media, no cameras around, just three to four rag pickers gathering up plastic,” says Vinod. 
    Facilitating a change of perception was the first thing that struck him. “When a person is living a corrupt life, you can’t tell them that they are corrupt 
and expect them to change. You have to change people before they become corrupt,” he explains. Kids were his natural target audience. 
Though his school programmes have educated kids, both about rag pickers and the benefits of recycling waste, if perceptions have to change there is nothing better than face-to-face conversations. Thus came about the Earth Day event. 
With Earth Day falling just after the school exams it has been difficult to get kids to attend the day-long programme. Vinod is also severely shortstaffed. With just one person on the pay roll Vinod depends heavily on volunteers to get things done. But over his 20-year ‘career’ in social work Vinod knows the drill. 
A change in attitude is not all he is gunning for. Vinod does feel rotten that these kids don’t have a chance to go to school but feels that even that will change with perception. If there were systems in place, where garbage could be segregated into wet and dry waste, that would be a start. Money can be generated through recycled products which in turn could be used to establish schools. 
“Since rag pickers don’t use the AC, nor drink mineral water, nor drive SUVs, the environmental problem is ours, not theirs. We are trying to create an interactive bond between the rag pickers and school students. I want to protect their livelihood. Instead of burning waste we can start taking things to recyclers, with rag pickers leading the way,” he says.

Acorn Eco Fair