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Deonar fire: As BMC cracks down on them, ragpickers face loss of livelihood

Private security guards hired by the BMC have been instructed to prevent any unauthorised personnel from entering the dumping ground.

Written by Arita Sarkar | Mumbai |
April 1, 2016 1:29:34 am
Deonar Fire, Deonar dumping ground fire, Mumbai dumping ground fire, Mumbai Deonar fire, Mumbai fire, Shiv Sena, BJP, Mumbai news, India news, Indian Express Fire at Deonar dumping Ground on Sunday. Express Photo

WITH A watchful eye over his shoulder, 18-year-old Danish Siddiqui, accompanied by a few other adolescent boys, spent Thursday afternoon sifting through garbage at the Deonar dumping ground. By the end of the day, they managed to slip out with a medium sized sack carrying mostly slippers, empty ointment tubes and plastic bags.


Others like them faced similar conditions after the BMC cancelled entry passes of 3,000 ragpickers on Thursday, alleging that it was sabotage that led to the latest fire at the dumping ground. At a meeting with Police Commissioner Dattatray Padsalgikar earlier this week, the BMC with the police decided to take action against ragpickers who would continue to enter the dumping ground from Thursday.

Private security guards hired by the BMC have been instructed to prevent any unauthorised personnel from entering the dumping ground. “We know some of the points to enter the dumping ground go unchecked but we are unable to get to the fresh piles of garbage. We mostly found old slippers and some half-burnt pipes. If they spot us, they chase us, and if you get caught, they beat you up very badly,” said Siddiqui.

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Dissatisfied with his find, Siddiqui said he hoped to make between Rs 60-80.

While the entrance is well guarded, the boundary wall has huge gaps at regular intervals with planks. Many ragpickers enter at will and pick at the garbage in the periphery as the smoke continues to rise from underneath the garbage mounds. Anwar Ali Shah, 35, found one such unguarded entrance. “How will they stop us from getting in? We will always find a way to get in. We don’t like going into a dumping ground for pleasure. But we have to feed ourselves and this job is a need for us,” he said.

Finding “atrocious” the BMC’s claim that ragpickers caused the frequent fires, Shalini Kamble of Apnalaya, an organisation of ragpickers, said they inform the fire brigade in case of a fires and even help them douse the flames. “We have been endangering our lives picking things like paper, glass, iron and leather , thereby reducing the garbage. Why would we set fire to the place, that gives us our livelihood? If only we knew who was behind the fires, which has led to us losing the only job we have, we would take them to task,” she said.

Kamble said the BMC could put in place regulations and allowed them inside under supervision for a stipulated time period instead of entirely banning their entry.

Many ragpickers blamed the fire on “politics”. “I have spent my childhood playing in the dumping ground. I have never seen as many fires as I have seen in the last two months. The fires have increased ever since politicians started coming here, which has wrecked our lives,” said Naseem Banu Shaikh, 30, who has been segregating garbage for more than a decade now. Shaikh and her mother have been earning Rs 300 on an average daily, which lets her send her children to school. The ragpickers said while one kilo of plastic, rubber and metal waste fetched them Rs 10, plastic bags are sold for only Rs 2 per kilo.

They said the BMC had wronged them by first acknowledging their work as a profession and giving them entry passes, and then revoking it. “If the BMC thinks we are responsible for the situation at Deonar, they should give us an alternative profession. We would happily take it up. But without any job, how will we survive,” said Kamble.

Shaikh said she had been unable to get any other job. “This is what we have done for most of our lives. We are illiterate and no one is willing to hire us,” she said.

Also part of the recycling process, the businesses of scrap vendors is similarly hit by the BMC move. Jalar Rizvi, who has been running a successful business for years now, sits in front of an empty shop. “Earlier, more than 10 tonnes of dry waste would come daily. But ever since the fires started, the amount reduced drastically. By cancelling the entry passes of the ragpickers, the BMC is taking away our livelihood too,” said Rizvi, adding he didn’t even manage to get one tonne of dry waste Thursday.

Members of Eagle Security have been keeping a stricter watch over the entrance and have stationed a couple of guards at some of the gaps on the boundary wall, being constructed at a rather slow pace. “We do understand that the people are very poor and come here to earn a livelihood. But we have orders to follow. In the past couple of weeks, we have handed over 8-10 people to the police, who fined them Rs 1,250 each, and have confiscated the passes of another 15-20 ragpickers,” said one of the guards at the gate.


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