Zalim Prasad (53) is a worried man these days. Prasad, who picks up garbage from a dhalao in Greater Kailash II and brings it back to his shanty at Pahari jhuggi at Tughlakabad village, has been rattled ever since he heard news that the Okhla landfill was being shut down. His concerns are shared by Gunja Bharti (32), a thekedaar of waste-pickers who lives in a jhuggi near Karamvir Dairy.
“We pick waste from a dhalao in Govindpuri. With the Okhla landfill shutting, there is a chance those waste-pickers will start working at our dhalao. This will ruin business for us… It’s not like we earn a lot anyway,” said Bharti, sitting on a chair surrounded by heaps of plastic and broken glass bottles. Prasad chimed in, “Business has anyway been slow at the dhalao since the SDMC van started going from colony to colony, picking garbage… and now we might have more competition.”
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Two days ago, the mountain that dots the Okhla skyline saw the last batch of trucks to dump garbage. SDMC Mayor Kamaljeet Sehrawat said, “There is a 25-acre land near Tekhand, where all the waste is going now.”
“We plan on levelling the mound at Okhla to turn it into a park. As far as waste-pickers are concerned, they will move to the other ground, I am sure,” Sehrawat said.
At the Okhla landfill, 11-12 waste-pickers go about their business, a Tricolour fluttering in their midst. “Since the waste-to-energy plant opened in 2011, fewer waste-pickers have been coming,” said Rajinder Kumar, 47, an official at the landfill.
Business has been bad for a few months now — especially since GST was introduced. At 2 pm on Tuesday, 22-year-old Abul Hussain played cards with his neighbours in Kuan Mohalla. “There is no work at the Okhla landfill anymore. All we get is ash, since the plastic and the metal are burnt. Ever since GST, the value of whatever little we got from there has gone down even more. I will probably go back to my village in Assam,” said Hussain.
A study done by Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group said “there is an aggregate loss of 40-50 per cent in the daily wages of waste-pickers since GST”. A member of the action group said, “Most recyclable items have been taxed between 12-18%, so earnings are down from Rs 3/kg to Re 1/kg.”