A pile of inequities

Published : Jul 21, 2001 00:00 IST

THREE professors from the SNDT Women's University in Pune, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have published a study of scrap collectors, scrap traders and enterprises involved in recycling material in Pune. Poornima Chikarmane, Assistant Director, Adult Education Department, Medha Deshpande, Reader in the Economics Department and Lakshmi Narayan, coordinator of the Programme for the Empowerment of Women Wastepickers in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education, worked with scrap collectors in the past 10 years. Lakshmi Narayan is also the general secretary of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat.

"The study," they say, "is not merely an academic exercise. Its findings are one more indictment of the inequities in our socio-economic system and a tool in the struggle against injustice."

The following is a summary of the findings:

Scrap collection is the first stage in the recycling sector. It is undertaken by two categories of people - wastepickers and itinerant buyers. Wastepickers collect scrap from garbage containers and landfill sites. Itinerant buyers purchase small quantities of scrap from households, offices, shops and small establishments. Itinerant buyers are divided into two sections on the basis of their gender and tools of trade. These are bhangar feriwalas (men) and dabbabatliwalis (women). After rudimentary sorting, they sell the scrap to retail scrap dealers by weight.

Retail traders have a direct relationship with the scrap collectors. Sometimes they give working capital and tools of the trade to itinerant buyers.

Stocking is the first level of wholesale trade. But stockists are invariably retailers too. Either a single commodity or a group of commodities that have a common market are taken up for wholesale trade.

REPROCESSING enterprises utilise scrap as a raw material. In terms of size, small registered enterprises make polythene; medium, labour-intensive, small-scale industries reprocess plastic and iron; and large, automated, multinationals make paper and glass. The use of scrap reduces the cost of production.

The percentages of utilisation of scrap as a raw material are as follows: glass (40 per cent); tin and iron (70 per cent); paper (50-100 per cent); and plastic (100 per cent).

EVERY scrap collector is a Dalit. Ninety per cent of the women and 50 per cent of the men among them are illiterate. Most of them are landless agricultural workers who migrated from drought-prone districts such as Solapur, Latur, Osmanabad and Beed.

There are 3,014 registered wastepickers in Pune and they collect 81 tonnes of waste every day (an average of 27 kg for each wastepicker.)

The municipalities spend about Rs.300 to dispose every tonne of garbage collected. Logically, they save Rs.24,413 a day, thanks to the work done by wastepickers. Wastepickers thus contribute Rs.246 worth of unpaid labour every month. Most scrap traders enter the trade either because it is the family business or because they have some contact in the trade. The higher levels of the trade are dominated by caste Hindus and Muslims. Vertical mobility from scrap collection to trade is low.

The traders are almost always located in slums and operate with minimum infrastructure. The daily working capital of a retail trader is Rs.2,000 on an average. Wholesalers operate with a working capital ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.3 lakhs.

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