Pune: Waste Pickers Hold Off Protest Against PMC Temporarily

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Pune, 20th November 2023: 3700 waste pickers of SWaCH have deferred their protest against the PMC, after an assurance of a meeting to resolve all issues. Harshad Barde appealed to the members of SWaCH to stretch their patience for another week, “Sandip Kadam, SWM, has promised that they will address all the concerns we have repeatedly raised with them.”

Despite regular follow up by SWaCH and the assurances of long-term renewal from the PMC, the cycle of short-term extensions has continued, pushing the irate waste pickers to agitate for their demands. The 17-year partnership between Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and SWaCH, ensures daily doorstep collection of waste of over 40 lakh people.

“Even during the covid pandemic it was only our green jackets that were seen throughout the city as we worked tirelessly to keep Pune clean and safe” continues Rani Shivsharan, member of SWaCH. “It was no surprise that 33 lakh citizens of Pune gave us their written support, asking for the model to be extended”

The widely acclaimed Pro-Poor- Private- Public- Partnership is hailed for its low-cost, resource effectiveness as well as integration of women workers. The most recent felicitation was at the hands of Eknath Shinde, Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Shri Devendra Fadnavis, Deputy Chief Minister, at the ‘Ma Ta Sanman’ Awards in March 2023. “We don’t want any more awards- institutionalise the model- Puraskar nako, Karar dya!” states Mangal Jadhav member of SWaCH.

“It isn’t only about the renewal, several areas for improvement have been suggested by us, which have fallen on deaf ears.” argue the board members of SWaCH. The provision of simple infrastructure can maximise the potential for recycling and composting, create more jobs, reduce emissions from transportation. The financial burden on slum dwellers can be relieved by an increase in the subsidy, ensuring reliable and equitable waste collection services to all citizens.

A robust replacement system to support waste pickers during absenteeism can enable integration of more informal waste pickers, and improve the terms of work for all. The current health insurance coverage of Rs. 5,000, needs to be increased to Rs. 50,000 in order to adequately cover medical expenses of the physically intensive work. Over the last 3 years, less than 30% of the contractually stipulated equipment such as buckets and pushcarts have been provided, further compromising the health of workers. Free motorised primary collection by the PMC and unauthorised private players collecting and dumping waste in some parts of the city, also hamper the existing model. The system is severely understaffed, and there has been minimal increase in allocation despite a 50% percent increase in properties due to the inclusion of newer villages within the PMC.

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In comparison to Indore and Pimpri-Chinchwad, SWaCH operates with a mere 10% of the total staff strength per household. In stark contrast, the city repeatedly invests in expensive waste processing technologies, offering 30 year contracts of staggering value, despite repeated failure of such technologies.

“The worst part is that we are blamed for the gaps in the poor secondary collection system and processing facilities” explains Vidya Naiknavre.

“The municipal vehicles are routinely delayed by 3-5 hours, resulting in unpredictable working hours for us and the additional burden of managing the residual waste without any supportive infrastructure. We will not rest until each of the issues is addressed. Our voices have been ignored, but we will not remain silent. Nothing short of a clear commitment and complete resolution of the issues will be accepted!”