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Waste Pickers and the ‘Right to Waste’ in an Indian City

Waste belongs to households and then to the municipality once it enters the public collection/disposal system. What does this mean for informal waste pickers? Despite their numbers and importance, they lack a “right to waste” and are vulnerable to processes of accumulation. This paper presents the counter-narrative of Solid Waste Collection and Handling, India’s first wholly self-owned cooperative of waste pickers, which has been contracted by the Pune Municipal Corporation for door-to-door waste collection. The initiative legitimises a “right to waste” for waste pickers by allowing them direct access to waste from households, and has reconceptualised waste and work for waste pickers, while altering their engagement with other stakeholders.

In order to privatise waste management in the Pimpri–Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), the city’s municipal corporation entered into a contract with a private firm, BVG, in 2007. BVG was entrusted with operating a plastics-to-fuel plant at the PCMC’s Moshi Garbage Depot. According to Khot (2014), “The contractor was supposed to install a plant to process 25 tonnes of plastic waste every day. [In order to be able to do so,] the PCMC allotted five acres of land on lease for a period of 30 years at a nominal rent of ₹ 1,000 per annum.” Seven years later (in 2014), BVG was far from achieving the proposed capacities. It had built three smaller plants, each with a capacity of handling 1.5 tonne of plastic waste every day. Of these, only two were operational (Khot 2014).

In defending BVG, its chairman sought to shift the blame on to the PCMC. According to him, “the contract entails that the PCMC should provide plastic waste at the plant, which it has failed to do” (Khot 2014). In hindsight, the plant was fated to run into operational troubles. Its viability depends on a continuous, high-volume flow of a specific grade of plastic. In the quest to introduce newer waste-handling technologies, the PCMC had given the go-ahead to a capital-intensive venture, while it could not ensure the availability of the critical raw material. Even while the plant’s inefficiencies posed a challenge to the PCMC and BVG, equally tangible, ongoing damages occurred at the Moshi landfill enclosure as well. The waste at the site was under BVG’s control, thus restricting access for waste pickers.

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Updated On : 1st Jun, 2020

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