‘Swachh Bharat has hit my earnings’

While authorities are beating the drum for Swachh Bharat, it has left poor workers like us worse off than we were before, says a garbage collector in Delhi

NH Photo
NH Photo
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Dhairya Maheshwari

My name is Shyam Nandan and I have been working as a garbage collector for 25 years, ever since I moved to Delhi from my hometown Gorakhpur. I am 48 years old, and have a wife and three kids at home. While I live in Madanpur Khadar near Badarpur border, I work in Greater Kailash.

The stench of rotten refuse nauseates you in the beginning, but then you get used to it. I am aware of the health complications that come with working as a garbage collector, but then I have a family to take care of. Twenty-five years into the profession, I don’t think I am equipped to do anything else other than collecting garbage and sifting plastic. A typical workday for me includes taking the bus to work at 6 am and then riding my cycle rickshaw around the neighbourhood to collect rubbish from homes. It takes five hours to collect garbage every day, after which I return to my garbage collection centre located in M-Block market.

I am required to be present at the Centre till evening and make sure that the surroundings are spic and span. Since the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in October 2014, the responsibilities have only increased; we have to now take care of the the immediate surroundings too. We are pulled up by our supervisors if there’s any rubbish found to be lying nearby. I would say that Swachh Bharat has increased our workload without a simultaneous increase in our wages.

One can see the emphasis the authorities are laying on Swachh Bharat from the fact that the centre and the garbage collection cans have Swachh Bharat logos painted on them.

While authorities are beating the drum for Swachh Bharat, it has left garbage collectors like us worse off than we were before.

The biggest problem is that the local authorities, South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) in my case, have started to enlist the help of private garbage collection companies with financial means to pick up garbage from commercial establishments like hotels and even some residential properties. This is just a six-month-old development. At least four big properties, whose garbage I was picking up for five years have told me off this week alone. Obviously, it has hit my earnings.

While we operate on cycle rickshaws, these private companies are employing three-wheelers to collect garbage. Naturally, we won’t be able to compete with them. But then, these companies seem to have been brought into the fray to achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat.

Besides, these private collection companies are also going about falsely claiming to clients that they would be fined Rs 1 lakh if they give away their garbage to rickshaw collectors like us. This has added to our economic woes as we are losing customers each day. It is for the first time in 25 years that private firms have being enlisted for garbage collection.

After the Swachh Bharat mission was launched, the vicinity of the garbage collection centres gets swept all the time, but the situation in the neighbourhoods remain the same. So, how does this benefit?

(As told by Shyam Nandan, a garbage collector)

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