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These 8,000 workers aren't just trash talking

Members of the waste-picking group, SwaCH, complain that many a time, citizens don't want to give their garbage and on the other hand, they aren't even paid well or provided with safety gloves by the civic body

They are the unsung heroes that ensure that the city isn't run over with heaps and mounds of garbage. But, let alone praise or recognition, they are hardly ever noticed.

Keeping it clean: SwaCH workers are responsible for handling and segregating the trash from people's homes
Keeping it clean: SwaCH workers are responsible for handling and segregating the trash from people's homes

They are the 8,000 registered waste pickers that have come together to form SWaCH Seva Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit, India's first cooperative of self-employed waste pickers or waste collectors.

It was back in 2008 that SwaCH signed up with the municipal body to ensure that people's garbage finds their way to the garbage heap. Five years on, they continue to work hard despite the several obstacles they face on a daily basis.

"We don't have the necessary staff, equipment. However, we hope for a better future with the PMC cooperating with us," said director of SwaCH, Mangal Pagare.

SwaCH has not only focussed on waste picking and management, but has also ensured that people are made aware of waste management. Talking about their journey, Pagare said, "Our waste pickers have had to face a lot of ups and downs. It has not been a smooth ride for them." In fact, the workers get a measly R30 per month per household.

Shobha, a waste picker from Ghole Road area, said, "Most of the times, we have to struggle with people to get their garbage. Often, people ask us to pick up the excreta of their dogs and then don't even pay us properly. People are supposed to separate their dry waste from their wet waste. But, this is never done. We aren't even given hand gloves or aprons."

And workers complain that it's not the public that they have problems with. Pagare added, "There is a lack of coordination between the pickers and collection vans. Sometimes, the van doesn't show up."

The way ahead
The organisation is hoping for better treatment from the PMC before it starts its sixth year with the civic body. "We are waiting for the renewal of our agreement with the PMC, which got terminated in September 2013.

We need more from the PMC, and have demanded for a fair pay, but owing to the current election season and code of conduct, we are still waiting for approval," added Pagare.

Improvements required

Pagare added that the PMC is supposed to invest Rs 700 per year for each employee, but that they never see this money. Furthermore, several schemes have been formulated on paper, but have not been enacted yet. "Health check-ups should be carried out every six months. Unfortunately, there is no provision of even a basic tetanus vaccination for an on-work injured worker. Additionally, workers don't even have sufficient gloves." He added that more sorting sheds were also required.

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