Ever since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) barred them from entering the Deonar dumping ground in January, earning a day’s living from selling items found in the city’s dry waste has become a distant reality for the family members of the waste segregators in and around Shivaji Nagar. Taking stock of their current economical condition, a survey conducted on the families of the 108 waste segregators carried out by the organisation Apnalaya indicated that at least 72 per cent of the families currently have no other alternative source of income.
As per the findings of the survey, 50 per cent of the families of the 108 waste segregators haven taken loans for household expenses. The survey also stated that the average amount of the loans taken by a family is around `48,000 and the loans range between `2,000 and `2,50,000.
Another survey, also carried out by Apnalaya on 33,000 people from over 6,600 households in Shivaji Nagar, quantified the food insufficiency in the area. Referring to the data collected, Arun Kumar, the chief executive officer of Apnalaya, said, “Over 11 per cent of the total population of Shivaji Nagar has to miss at least one meal a day more than 10 times a month. This means they are going hungry at least every third day.” He added that nearly eight out of 10 people have stated that they are unable to afford food despite having a ration card as they need the money to purchase drinking water.
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Even approaching various political leaders and staging a protest in front of the M-East ward office last month did not yield any results, they claimed. Now, member of the Kachra Vechak Seva Sangha plans to approach the local corporators one last time before taking up legal recourse. “All the promises made by the political leaders were pointless and the BMC went back on their word. We are meeting with the local corporators today. If they don’t help us then we will have to turn to the court as our last resort,” said Shalini Kamble, one of the waste collectors.
Kamble added that in the desperation of earning money, some of the ragpickers go into the dumping ground at night while a majority of them are struggling to find new jobs. “We have been doing this for more than 50 years. Suddenly, the BMC has taken away our livelihood and have not given any alternate job. The ward officials say they will consider allowing us inside after the work inside is completed, which will easily take more than two years. Are we supposed to go hungry till then?” she asked.
In June, the BMC had decided to allow 1,000-odd ragpickers to enter the dumping ground after a thorough reference check. The ward officials had even planned to install biometric machines to monitor the movements of the ragpickers through RFID cards. The idea was dropped for unknown reasons and the officials of the solid waste management department have been quiet on the issue.
Officials of the solid waste management department stated they are reluctant to allow the ragpickers to enter the dumping ground until the boundary wall, the CCTV cameras and the high masts are in place. “The ragpickers cause fires and damage other utilities. After all the work is completed, the area can be monitored and controlled and then we can allow a few of the ragpickers inside,” said an official from the SWM department.
He added that the work has been delayed since contractors are not willing to bid for any work related to the Deonar dumping ground since the fire broke out. “We have floated the tenders twice for the high masts and thrice for the CCTV camera. There has been poor or no response. We will try one more time and then go ahead with single bidders if there isn’t adequate response,” said the official.