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Scrap collectors at protest sites have their hands full

At any given time of the day, multiple scrap collectors can be seen walking through the protest sites looking for plastic bottles. On Monday afternoon, Neelam stood outside a bustling langar centre at Singhu border where lunch was being served, with a sack full of plastic bottles almost as tall as her.

Written by Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi | December 25, 2020 3:18:36 am
farmers protests, farmers, Farm laws, Punjab farmers, MSP, APMC mandi, Farmers-corporates, BJP on farmers, India news, Indian ExpressA woman collects discarded bottles at Singhu. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

With the protest sites at both Tikri and Singhu borders located close to slum settlements, and with large quantities of plastic waste being generated at both places, scrap collectors from nearby slums are an occupied lot.

At any given time of the day, multiple scrap collectors can be seen walking through the protest sites looking for plastic bottles. On Monday afternoon, Neelam stood outside a bustling langar centre at Singhu border where lunch was being served, with a sack full of plastic bottles almost as tall as her.

“I live near Kundli village. I used to go from factory to factory collecting scraps, getting enough to sell for around Rs 250 per day. Ever since this protest began, I stopped going on my usual routes and have been coming here at 8 am and staying till late in the evening. Since there are so many people using plastic bottles and plates, I’m collecting enough from here alone to sell for Rs 500 per day,” she said.

She brings her one-year-old daughter to the site at meal time every day, and both of them have been eating at the langars. So are entire families and neighbourhoods from the nearby jhuggi-jhopri colonies.

Rabia comes to the Singhu protest site with her neighbour Shakila and their children — each with their own sacks.

“We come at 7 am and stay for a couple of hours. We come again at 1 pm and stay for two hours. Earlier we used to go to colonies and Narela mandi to collect scraps — enough to make around Rs 100-150 per day. There is a lot more to be collected here. We collect scrap worth Rs 250-300 per day. We are storing these in our homes for now. We sell to a person who comes from Sonipat, but he hasn’t been able to come yet because of the blockade,” she said.

At Tikri border too, Shahid Khan, a contractual waste picker, looks for plastic bottles, cardboard and leftover food. “I carry the packets in my thela and segregate the waste at home. Every three months I sell them to a contractor. I make Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 for three months. I think it would amount to a lot more this time since there is a lot of waste. We make the most from plastic bottles,” he said.

The Indian Express has reported that the massive volume of solid waste generated at the protest sites — disposable plates, glasses and packets, and food waste — is more than what municipal workers can collect on a daily basis.

Some groups are currently focusing on distributing essential items instead of cooked food at both sites. While not producing food waste, this is generating large quantities of cartons every day. Some of these are being used as fuel for desi geysers set up in the bath area; the rest are being collected by a group of women scrap collectors.

(Inputs from Ashna Butani)

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