Hemmed in waste pickers assisting to set up temporary alternate waste collection systems through PMC collaboration.

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Pune, 29 April 2020- When Pune locked down on 31st March, the 3000+ waste pickers of the SWaCH cooperative continued providing uninterrupted waste collection services in Pune. No one wanted another public health calamity in the form of uncollected garbage littering the streets. They were the subject of commendation. Stories of door to door collectors shifting home, confronting hostile elements and negotiating the skeletal transport system did the rounds.

Through the month they continued to collect the waste because it was their duty, not pausing to ask who in the buildings that they serviced had returned from abroad, who had tested positive or who had skipped quarantine. They did all this while the poverty virus kept them confined to dense and congested housing in city.

When the Patil Estate slum was sealed by the Pune Municipal Corporation, SWaCH waste pickers from that particular slum were asked to stop collection and the PMC decided to temporarily assign ghantagadis for covering some areas serviced by these waste-pickers.

In the interest of public safety they have refrained from providing waste-collection service for a short period of time till the sealing measures ease or they are safely evacuated from the slum. SWaCH staff will assist PMC in assigning alternative collection system through PMC vehicles as far as possible. PMC and SWaCH are working together to ensure the inconvenience caused to the citizens is minimized.

However, SWaCH collectors are understandably concerned because this change comes towards the end of the month when the user fees are due from citizens. SWaCH collectors are hemmed in by fears of the virus attacks on their lives and the potential loss of livelihoods due to inability to leave their residences. Incidences of non-SWaCH persons taking user fees from citizens cannot be denied.

Hence, SWaCH members call upon citizens to pay user fees only to them directly and not to any other persons. They have sought special permission to collect user fees from the PMC in the near future.“We just hope for solidarity for the years of sustainable waste management service provided by them to the city and its residents” says one such waste picker.

Citizens could also compost their biodegradable waste at home, so that delays or disruptions will not cause too much inconvenience to the citizens. Wet waste, which is volatile and troublesome if stored, can be easily managed in a safe and sustainable manner through basic composting techniques.