Ragpickers march to protect livelihood
Informal sector workers (ragpickers) have demonstrated in the past against poor working conditions and police brutality. Now they ask for job survival. Since the MCD announced plans to privatise door-to-door waste collection earlier this year, representatives said they worry ragpickers will be replaced with private companies, reports Michelle Stockman. See video.india Updated: Aug 11, 2008 13:17 IST
On the anniversary of the day Mahatma Gandhi told the British to "Quit India," 500 ragpickers and supporters told the MCD to ban private waste collection agencies from their turf.
Men and women from four trade unions walked to the MCD office near Ambedkar Stadium with a memo listing their demands, including rights to participate in employment schemes, gain legal status, and guaranteed social security and safety precautions.
Though not legally recognised, an estimated 3.5 lakh ragpickers clean up 20 to 40 per cent of Delhi's solid waste, according to the All India Kabadi Majdoor Mahshagh Union.
Informal sector workers have demonstrated in the past against poor working conditions and police brutality. Now they ask for job survival. Since the MCD announced plans to privatise door-to-door waste collection earlier this year, representatives said they worry ragpickers will be kicked to the curb and replaced with private companies, some foreign-owned.
"We were keeping the city clean for so many years," said Meena Patel, convener of the Workers Solidarity Center. "Why don't you legalize us?"
The MCD could not be reached for comment.
Last October, Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit recognized the informal sector's need for social security and gave away 6,000 gloves, aprons, and face masks.
But Dharmendra Kumar, Director of India FDI Watch, said that the programme was a political ploy. He said he worries that without this technically illegal profession, many of Delhi's migrants and unskilled workers will turn to crime.
"If they are moved from this sector there is no other option for them," said Kumar.
Though the unions' demands focused on preserving the profession, protestors hopes focused on the here and now.
Avadesh Kumar, 31, said he has worked as a rag picker for seven years and wants protection from police intimidation and bribery.
"Police detain us and send us even to jail saying that we are manhole cover thieves. We must grease his palm with 500 or 1000 rupees to let us go."
Simun Khath, 30, originally from Bihar, stood at the rally holding her year old baby. She works with her husband and five children daily to earn Rs 100.
"I have been told that if you march someday you will get homes for yourself and subsidized food. The days that we don't earn, we starve."