Category Archive : ACORN India

Waste Matters

On the 14th of January, 40 students and 4 teachers of the American school (ABS), Bandra Kurla Complex visited the Dharavi Project to meet our members and see the recycling Industry in Dharavi. The recyclers were struck by the age of these  young environmentalists from the 5th grade who were participating in our “waste matters” project.
The International school has children from all over the world studying with them. The 2 buses arrived at 11 am in Dharavi as part of the community and social responsibility project of the school. The Dharavi Project has been chosen as one of the NGO’s with which the ABS will be working this year. The 5th graders have already seen the documentary “Waste” and attended my talk last month on the work we are doing in Dharavi. I was asked many questions by these bright students during the talk, their young minds were delighted when I told them that they could visit  Dharavi and see  the  recycling process which finally took place on the 14th .
At every unit the students wanted to feel with their own hands the material being recycled, raising fresh questions, which our committee members gladly answered.
After visiting the segregation , cardboard, footwear, plastic units, the students got back into their buses and went back to school.
The students and teachers thanked our members for being such kind hosts and allowing the  them to walk into their working spaces and educating them on the importance of  recycling.

The Workshop

The Acorn Dharavi Project conducted a successful workshop for children of members living in the Rag pickers communities in Dharavi on 13th december, 2009. The workshop was conducted by a visiting volunteer Ekaterina Nikolova ( Katya) who used a mix of theatre, craft, games , physical activity, drawing , art and various other teaching techniques to make the children laugh, cry , shout ,learn and unlearn about their city and Dharavi.

The three hour workshop was attended by 35 students, and acorn committee members Anil, Vinod, Rafiq, Lakshmi, Sabya, Sangita, Kamble Moushi, and Fatima who assisted  Katya. What is remarkable was that Katya was able to communicate with the children despite speaking very little Hindi, and the kids knew very little English.
The workshop started with a introduction of all the kids to each other where they learnt their names, by shouting it out loud for all to hear, there itself the ice was broken when they all held hands and learnt their own names.
This followed by a theatre session, where the children played various synchronised games i.e clapping, tom and Jerry, blind cat, Hawa chali and role reversal games. All these games were conducted in the open ground of the Xavier Institute where the workshop was conducted.

The next session was the Art class which involved the children doing a collage of “My Mumbai” with waste paper, the children could not believe their eyes that they had made the collages themselves, their smiles say it all.This followed with a small lecture in English and hindi on global warming by Katya and Vinod, Recycling and the role of their parents in Rag picking and waste segregation. They also participated in a discussion on what problems that Dharavi was facing and the children came up with the burning issues i.e water, housing , electricity, schools, colleges, health etc,
Finally the entire group participated in a group drawing of ” My life in  Dharavi” , each group consisted of 5-6 children and they drew to their hearts content using crayons, and felt pens and plastic waste from segregation units in Dharavi which they were familiar with.
The workshop ended with some impromptu dancing and singing and after a few snacks and drinks the students received their passing out gifts from Katya teacher, the kids said their goodbyes and headed back to Dharavi to their waiting mothers and fathers to report on their magical day at the acorn workshop , before leaving one small girl with crayon marks on her face asked when the next class would take place.

Eye Clinic in Dharavi

The ACORN Foundations Dharavi Project conducted a successful eye clinic spread over 2 days in Dharavi ending on  9-01-10 where over 150 people had their eyes tested. Many of the Dharavi residents were testing their eyes for the first time, they received a complete eye check-up in the hands of a team of doctors and nurses, and were given free eye glasses from the Lotus Eye Hospital which conducted the eye clinic free of cost, the mobile eye clinic ambulance was made available from Impact India.
Some of the more serious cataract cases were referred by the doctors to other eye hospitals for free surgery. The mobile clinic was a much needed medical service and we witnessed long queues from 8 am onwards , two hours before the start of the clinic The clinic checked the  residents eyes,  and those who required high numbered lenses were told to collect their custom made eye glasses next week .

The committee members of the Dharavi Project Lakshmi, Rafiq,Sangita ,Fatima, Mangla , and other active members under the guidance of staff co-ordinator Anil Sawant  were the volunteers for the program. 

The same day we saw a visit from a International film crew of the National Geographic Channel  which is making a 50 minute documentary on Dharavi  featuring a segment on the Dharavi Project. The new year has begun on the right note, more next week on the waste matters project in 22 schools in Mumbai, which is distributing  bins to the schools this week, our members get to collect the dry waste in return for my training the school kids in waste management and screening Parasher Baruah’s documentary. This week also sees a day visit to our community by 30 students of the American school as part of the year long program in the school.


About ACORN Argentina

ACORN Argentina, founded in 2006, in Buenos Aires, campaigns for basic human rights such as public housing, basic education, clean air and water and against pollution.

Our achievements include:

A campaign in La Boca, in the southern district of the capital, where ACORN Argentina members organized against eviction and ‘temporary displacement’. The homes of the affected people were slated for demolition by the Institute of Housing that had bought the area in 1991to build higher income housing. Due to the efforts of ACORN Argentina and its members, majority of the homes were saved, although some families lost their homes. Till today, ACORN Argentina continues to fight for the public housing tenants. It has since expanded itself to some of the poorest areas in the city such as Barracas, Constitucion, and Paque Patricios, while consolidating its presence in La Boca.

In 2006 we worked to bring to the attention of the Ministry of the Public Works the failing pipe system in Buenos Aires. The city slopes upwards as it spreads north. The pipe system in the south bears the brunt of water flow when it rains. Additionally, the south is seriously under-maintained. There is very little water pressure, large scale sewage problems and frequent flooding which leads to large pools of stagnant water in areas that have high level of pollution and infrequent trash collection. ACORN Argentina and its members convinced the ministry of public works that this was serious problem for many communities in the south. Now the southern pipe system regularly receives the same cleanings as the north, and the situation has significantly improved.

Over the last one year ACORN Argentina has been conducting a campaign against heavy transport vehicles plying through poor neighborhoods. This campaign emerged out of the concerns of our members around their water and sanitation infrastructure. The campaign targets huge 18 wheel trucks illegally barreling down the narrow streets in poor neighborhoods. The weight of the trucks damages the underground pipe system and, with passage of time, creates fissures in the walls of the dwellings. They also pose safety risk to the local residents, especially children (one child had been killed just around the time we started out our campaign). In a year’s time we have secured promises from both the police and the Transit Ministry to deploy more officers to the enforcement of laws barring the trucks in the neighborhoods. The Transit Ministry is working to make sure that the trucks are clearly directed to appropriate routes and fines get imposed on the errant trucks.

ACORN Argentina is battling rampant security problems in the poor neighborhoods while simultaneously providing safe educational spaces for children and youth in areas with high rates of drop out, unemployment and illiteracy. We are working with local police officers to increase communication between disconnected neighborhood stations and to encourage relationships between members, communities and police officers in an effort to build trust. We have also asked more patrols, and we are advocating for more funding and increased budget transparency.

Our Kid’s Project addresses the needs of local youth. This is an entirely volunteer based and member-led initiative that provides free classes as well as after-school homework support in Spanish literacy, English, art, music, and dance. This initiative also provides a forum for crucial interaction between the elder members and the under-privileged youth.

ACORN Argentina is working towards the objective that, by the end of 2008, citizens of Buenos Aires will be one step closer to autonomy by finally having a system in place called the Comunas. This system will group current political districts and culturally recognized neighborhoods into 15 comunas. Citizens of Buenos Aires will be able to vote for local representatives who will comprise a Communal Board of 7 members for each comunas. There will be a president of the comunas voted by the people who will then head the Communal Board. This system will not be perfect, but it will allow citizens to have more control over the budget and over the municipal services in the city. ACORN Argentina plans to build a City-wide non-governmental coalition to ensure that this step is taken when Mauricio Marcri (PRO) takes office in 2008, and further steps are taken from then onwards.

Campaigns and Victories: India

ACORN India has an impressive range of victories. The India FDI Watch has used the power of mass mobilization, coupled with an effective media strategy, to raise the profile of the issue of Wal-Mart’s entry into India.

In November, 2006, the campaign mobilized hundreds of hawkers, street vendors and social activists to warn the government not to allow FDI in retail sector. In January 2007, the Chairperson of the ruling alliance UPA, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, publicly warned the Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh about the dangers posed to the economy and to communities by allowing multi- national companies to grow rapidly and without regulation across India.

In February 2007, upon the arrival of a senior Wal-Mart executive to India to sign a deal with Bharti, the India FDI Watch campaign organized press conferences and public demonstrations in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. As a result of these demonstrations, Sonia Gandhi refused to meet with the executive in Delhi. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) responded to the campaign by recommending that Wal-Mart’s entry be delayed until a Special Task Force of interest groups, including unbiased academic institutions, has had the chance to study the issue.

The campaign gained a lot of strength in spring 2007. In April 2007 FDI India watch and its partners staged the National Convention to Resist Corporate Hijack of Retail in Delhi. At this Convention and later meetings, the plan to form a National Steering Committee was agreed upon and later implemented. The movement was given a name: “National Movement for Retail Democracy.”

In 2007, we also collaborated with research organizations and academic institutions on a case study that qualitatively and quantitatively documented how large retailers and malls had already harmed the sales of surrounding small businesses and hawkers in Mumbai, which was published in the journal “Economic and Political Weekly.” Finally, we supported the research of a Mumbai academic documenting the working conditions and wages of workers in the enterprises of Indian suppliers to Wal-Mart.

In 2008, the campaign has gained more visibility. It has reached out to and collaborated with other international organizations working on issues of development in India.

In spring 2008 Mr. Dharmendra Kumar, the director of India FDI Watch, was invited to speak to the British All Parliamentary Group in London, England.

On 1st May 2008, on the occasion of Workers Day, in a march of rag pickers to the Delhi state assembly, 400 of our member rag pickers participated.

On 29th September 2008, hundreds of hawkers under the banner of National Hawkers Federation, a national partner of India FDI Watch, held a demonstration in front of the Metro Shop in Kolkata. The shop is yet to become operational.

ACORN India recently started organizing in the Dharavi squatter community in Mumbai. Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum where some of the largest recycling units of Mumbai are located. ACORN India has recently embarked upon two campaigns in Mumbai called the Dharavi Project and Waste Matters. The main goal of the initiave is to raise awareness about the plights of rag pickers and to generate funds to work towards the redressal. As part of the Dharavi Project, a documentary will be filmed which will be distributed in four languages in schools and colleges. One of Bollywood’s (Indian film industry’s) top music trio will do a music video for ACORN India about its work among the Rag pickers. The trio will also do a show in Mumbai on January 13th, 2009, the proceeds of which will go towards setting up an organization for the Rag pickers. The Dharavi project will bring in artists, school students and architecture students in direct interaction with the rag picker community.

ACORN India has also successfully developed a partnership with Action Aid. Action Aid is funding ACORN India for a three-month (Oct to Dec) research on Hawkers and small retailers in five cities across India.

ACORN India in the process of forming Hawkers’ union in Mumbai. Under the banner of the Hawkers Union ACORN India recently organized a well-attended meeting in Mumbai.

ACORN India’s Work with Hawkers

The other major constituency with whom ACORN India is undertaking an initiative is the hawkers. Hawkers are street vendors who sell stuff from portable carts. A large chunk of the population of India still buys daily food, and even clothes, books, newspapers from these street vendors. Hence the emergence of big retail stores like Reliance and others is a direct assault on the livelihoods of the hawkers.

With the advent of the New Economic Policy in 1991, the face of urban India is slowly but surely changing. In this era of globalization, privatization and market forces, big corporate retailers are becoming the vogue of the day and are often called the new face of the shining India. The brunt of this rampant corporatism and the big private business mentality is being borne directly by the hawkers.

Hawkers are one of the most important social and economic service providers in India. On the one hand they provide affordable services to the urban population; one the other hand they give the small scale and home based industries a platform for survival as these hawkers are the only selling source for these industries. 

Hawkers also play a very important role in the overall urban economy. They are the second larges workforce in the unorganized sector. The total turnover of hawkers in Mumbai is Rupees 120 billion (USD 2.4 billion), in Delhi Rupees 100 billion (USD 2.0 billion) and in Kolkata Rupees 88 billion (USD 1.8 billion). Despite such tremendous contribution towards the economy, the 10- million odd street vendors, or hawkers, in India—a large number of them working and living in major urban centers like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata—face a serious threat to their livelihood from the corporate retailers. This in turn further endangers the livelihoods of million of others connected from informal sector of the economy.

Retail trade is the single largest component of the services sector in terms of contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of India. It amounts to 14 per cent of the service sector. The total number of retail outlets (both food and non-food) was 8.5 million in 1996 and 12 million in 2003.

In the past couple of years, big corporate firms such as Subhiksha, Reliance, Aditya Birla Group, Spencers, Big Apple etc. have entered the Indian retail market. According to estimates for every one job generated by corporate retail companies about 15 existing informal sector jobs will get destroyed. Thus an estimated 40 million of workers including street vendors, hawkers and small shop owners stand to lose their livelihood if the expansion of corporate firms is allowed to go unchecked. The situation is going to be grave if the government allows FDI in retail paving the way for predatory firms like Wal-Mart to directly enter India.

ACORN India has also successfully developed a partnership with Action Aid. Action Aid is funding ACORN India for a three-month (Oct to Dec) research on Hawkers and small retailers in five cities across India.

ACORN India in the process of forming Hawkers’ Union in Mumbai. Under the banner of this Hawkers’ Union, ACORN India recently organized a well-attended meeting in Mumbai.

On 29th September 2008, hundreds of hawkers under the banner of National Hawkers Federation, a national partner of India FDI Watch, held a demonstration in front of the Metro Shop in Kolkata. The shop is yet to become operational.


What Are Waste Pickers?

Waste pickers are the people who actually go through the garbage bins to pick out the things we discard as waste. These waste pickers- women, children, and men are from the lowest rung in the society, are a common sight in most cities and towns around the country. Waste picking is considered the most menial of all activities and it is people who have no other alternative that are generally driven to it. They contribute a great deal to waste management as they scavenge the recyclable matter thereby saving the municipality the cost and time of collecting and transporting this to the dumps

Some facts about the waste pickers:

  • The waste pickers and kabaris pick up recyclable waste, such as paper, plastics, metals etc. Waste pickers pick up and recycle almost 15-20 % of the garbage and are the backbone of recycling sector in Delhi.
  • For every hundred people in Delhi, there is approximately one person who recycles their waste.
  • In all they save the municipality at least 6 lakh rupees daily. They save municipal authorities 24% of their expenses by removing waste from the waste stream. A host of industries receives raw material collected by waste pickers, who thus contribute to saving resources
  • It is the largest informal sector that is cleaning up the city and saving us from the health hazard on a daily basis.

The Biggest Informal Sector in Solid Waste Management

As we know in Delhi there are three civic agencies to manage the city’s waste namely Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB). These are the formal agencies created by the government, but there is also one informal agency doing the same work as these formal agencies. These informal sector workers are the waste picker community. According to one estimate, they pick 15-20 %of the city’s waste thereby saving up to 6-lakh rupees daily for the municipality and the government. But ironically their contribution in keeping the city clean goes unnoticed.

Almost all of the recycling is done through the informal sector, which comprises waste pickers, small buyers, a host of agents and finally the recyclers. The waste collected by the formal agencies directly goes to the landfill. The recyclable items collected from the Dhalaos by the waste pickers are used for recycling. The municipal agencies do not segregate the waste before taking them to the landfill. All the waste are mixed up and dumped in the landfill.

The thousand of waste picker collecting the waste is the backbone of the recycling sector. The informal sector of recycling works like a pyramid. The first layer comprises several hundred thousand men, women and children in urban pockets who mine garbage heaps and bins for recyclable wastes like plastic paper and metals. At the second layer comes the small middlemen, often poor themselves, who buy waste from the waste pickers.

They in turn sell the waste to the third layer, comprising large buyers who own huge godowns. Finally at the top, devouring all the labor and materials from below are the actual recyclers themselves. Most of the city interacts with the first and the second layer, whose labor actually propels recycling in India.

Health Problems

Common health problems faced by waste pickers as a result of their present working conditions are:

  • Physical injuries like cuts and pricks are common among them. This is result of poor segregation at source and the non-usage of protective gloves.
  • Heat during the summer months cause dizziness and nausea as the decomposed waste emits a strong smell.
  • Back pain due to manual work and pushing of trolleys is a problem faced by some collectors.

Assessing the health impact of the programme on waste pickers is a difficult task. A waste picker’s health is affected by a variety of factors like living conditions, eating habits, personal hygiene, etc.

Work Among Ragpickers in India

Mountains of garbage dump in New Delhi, the capital of India. A slum dwelling in the backdrop of sky scrappers in Mumbai, the industrial capital of India. Not matter where you go, the other side of the India reality stares you in the face. Children playing in what is a black mountain of garbage. These are the children of the Rag pickers. And this is a very common sight in major cities in India. India lives in many centuries at the same time.

Slums are everywhere in Indian cities and they stare you in your face. The sprawling shantytowns, with dwellings made of polythene sheets, cardboards, rags, tin, mud, occasionally bricks and practically anything that can be used in putting up a shelter from sun and rain, can be seen along the railway lines, along the boundary walls of factories and offices, along roads, in the river beds, along the open canals and large drains that carry the city waste, on any piece of vacant land often belonging to the municipality or to other public institutions.

These are slums home to the migrant laborers. Large scale livelihood based forced migration has been on ascendance in India over the last couple of decades and it will be a major phenomena to contend with even in the future. Since the economic liberalization in 1991, India is on a path of accelerated capitalist growth, which results in people flocking cities in hope of livelihood and better lives. The old Indian agragarian system is becoming obsolete and young people are migrating to big cities to earn a living and in hope to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. The “Indian Dream” or the Indian version of the “American Dream”. 

Recent decades have witnessed rapid urbanization all over India. During the period 1991-2001 the overall urban population growth rate has been 31 per cent. In comparison, the overall population growth during the same period has been 21 per cent, and the growth rate of the rural population has been 18 per cent. Large urban agglomerations have gone through particularly explosive growth. Largest 35 among these now account for 11 per cent of the total Indian population. 

You may ask who are these Rag Pickers, what are their stories and why should we help them?

Rag pickers are the people who scavenge through the colossal waste the city produces every day. This trash comes from homes, offices, small businesses, factories, shops and almost every other activity that a city engages in. Garbage dumps are often out in the open, by the roadside. Since the mechanized facilities for separating recyclable material out of this waste are almost non-existent, this task is accomplished manually by the waste pickers. They collect recyclable waste and trash from various places in the cities including plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass bottles, metal scraps, used bulbs and fluorescent tube lights, rejected vegetables, fruits and kitchen waste, old medicines, paints, chemicals, containers of different chemical products of factories, batteries, clothes and other objects soiled with bodily fluids like excreta and vomit. They even pick things from dumps of hospital waste. They collect anything that has a resale value or can be recycled. They have no protection gear on them while doing all this hazardous work. Their nose and mouth are not covered; they use their bare hands and walk in such dumps with bare foot. Even basic needs like facemasks, gloves, sticks and boots are unavailable to these workers who engage in an extremely hazardous profession.

There are no exact data available on how many rag pickers are there in India. Some reports suggest between approximately 2 to 2.5 million people engage in this profession, with over 300,000 in Delhi alone. The living conditions in the slums are inhumane to say the least. The waste pickers in Delhi are responsible for saving the government up to 6 lakh (600,000) rupees (12,000 USD) per day. Despite this, their work is not officially recognized or protected, and they undergo regular harassment at the hands of public officials and civilians alike. Their lack of recognition also prevents them from public benefits such as social security or healthcare coverage, and puts them at the constant mercy of private recycling companies.

It is in this backdrop that ACORN India is engaged in the process of building a membership base amongst the waste pickers so that they can secure protections to their livelihoods and persons.

ACORN India has won small yet significant victories that ensure better working conditions for these rag pickers. The rag pickers associated with ACORN India are now provided with masks to cover their faces, gloves and boots and sticks to scavenge through the garbage. ACORN India recently started organizing in the Dharavi squatter community in Mumbai. Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum where some of the largest recycling units of Mumbai are located. ACORN India has recently embarked upon two campaigns in Mumbai called the Dharavi Project and Waste Matters. The main goal of the initiave is to raise awareness about the plights of rag pickers and to generate funds to work towards the redressal. As part of the Dharavi Project, a documentary will be filmed which will be distributed in four languages in schools and colleges. One of Bollywood’s (Indian film industry’s) top music trio will do a music video for ACORN India about its work among the Rag pickers. The trio will also do a show in Mumbai on January 13th, 2009, the proceeds of which will go towards setting up an organization for the Rag pickers. The Dharavi project will bring in artists, school students and architecture students in direct interaction with the rag picker community.

Almost 35 percent of India’s population still lives on less than a dollar a day. Developing economies like India are emerging as the next frontiers of market expansion. The onslaught of mindless corporatism results in denial of basic rights like water, sanitation, education and health, right to land and a life free of evictions, and basic human dignity. It is in face of such big challenges that ACORN India is looking to mobilize these vulnerable communities to fight for their basic rights and in process empower themselves.



ACORN India came into existence when in March 2005 the stage was set by the work Community Organizations International was doing in partnership with the FDI Watch campaign in India. ACORN India FDI Watch seeks to scrutinize and challenge Foreign Direct Investment in the retail sector in India. ACORN India seeks to prevent large multi-national companies like Wal-Mart from entering Indian markets unless they guarantee protection of communities they affect; ensure stability of the existing small businesses and ensure livelihoods of small traders; guarantee fair wages, just working conditions and a right to unionize to all their employees; and ensure that a significant portion of the supplies comes from the Indian markets.

Since the economic liberalization in 1991, India has been on a trajectory of accelerated capitalist development with fast growing middle class consumers, which presents multi-national retailers and corporations with tempting opportunities for establishing presence in the Indian markets. India has not allowed, so far, vehemently anti-union, anti-worker corporations to establish their control over the market. But one of the last remnants of the Nehruvian socialist legacy is now in danger from the onslaught of the march of global corporatism. Countries like India are the next frontiers of significant market expansion for multi-national corporations; and these corporations are now starting to apply extreme pressure on the government of India for unfettered access. Indian market is facing an onslaught of both foreign and domestic corporate retailers, the most notable of which is Wal-mart.

Since 2006 we have built key relationships with leadership of political parties, trade unions, hawkers and farmers’ groups, peoples’ movements and the media. Over last two years ACORN India has built a coalition with community organizations, trade unions, peoples’ movements and NGOs, thus engaging progressively in poverty alleviation and urban development.

Through grassroots mobilization, documentation and research, and media advocacy, the India FDI Watch campaign has succeeded in bringing the negative effects of corporate retail expansion to the attention of state, national, and international media—and authorities.

This past year, ACORN India has broadened its focus to include concerns outside of corporate retail. One such concern has been the problems that face waste-pickers living in Delhi and Mumbai, whose lack of recognition from the government leaves them without social protections such as healthcare and education. One of the major constituencies with which ACORN India is establishing work are the waste pickers. It also puts them at the risk of harassment from security forces, civilians, middle men who sell their goods, and private recycling companies.

Waste pickers are workers who scavenge through the city’s garbage to sell it to the recycling industry. ACORN India is in the process of building a membership base amongst these workers so that they can secure protections of their livelihoods and persons. Community Organizations International has 1400 members among waste pickers.

ACORN India is also demanding that the Government of India agree to a Universal Health Plan to include the unorganized workers. We are proposing that our members can be covered by this policy using part of their membership dues as the premium.

With our initial successes in mind, ACORN India is eager to continue to grow its membership and to conduct larger-scale campaigns around all of the important issues that our members face—poverty; discrimination based on caste, gender, and religion; poor provision of services, and lack of government accountability.