At least 726 children are involved in ragpicking in the urban local bodies and cantonment board areas of Uttarakhand, figures compiled by the state commission for protection of child rights have revealed.
Of these, at least 485 child ragpickers are working in the six municipal corporation of the state alone.
In December 2014, the commission had asked more than 80 urban local bodies in the state, including municipal corporations, municipal boards and town panchayats as well as the cantonment boards to submit data on child ragpickers, Yogendra Khanduri, chairman of the commission, told HT.
“We had to send repeated reminders to the administrative officials of the local bodies and are yet to compile the final data as some of them have not submitted the figures till now,” he said.
Deputy municipal commissioner of Haldwani-Kathgodam Municipal Corporation Neeraj Joshi said the civic body spent over a month to conduct a survey in the 25 wards of the city.
Child rights activists say figures could be much higher if an accurate assessment were to take place, pointing out that as many as 46 local bodies in the state have submitted that there are no child ragpickers in their areas.
Purushottam Badoni, a Rishikesh-besd activist, said the local bodies do not have any accurate mechanism to identify the exact number of ragpickers.
“It not only speaks for the superficial data they have submitted but also reflects the lack of seriousness of local bodies towards addressing the hazardous practice,” he said.
“A methodical system should be developed to trace the otherwise hard-to-pin-down population of child ragpickers.”
At least 70 child ragpickers are residing in three of the city’s many slum areas where his organization works, said Badoni, the founder of Parvatiya Lok Shikshan Samiti that partners Child Rights and You in the state.
Activists have questioned how the authorities will chalk out literacy and other welfare schemes for the children involved in ragpicking unless they get hold of accurate figures.
“I am afraid that these numbers are grossly underreported…there are at least 400 children involved in ragpicking in Dehradun alone,” said Neelu Khanna, secretary of Dehradun-based Aasraa Trust that works for education of slum and street children. Khanna said children involved in ragpicking often fall prey to health hazards because of the toxic material they handle in the garbage heaps and urgent steps are taken to “rectify the garbage menace”.
The state commission for protection of child rights is planning to approach the government urging it to “devise welfare schemes for children involved in ragpicking and to find a way to verify the data submitted by the local bodies, said Khanduri.