“You have cared and saved the livelihood of Singur farmers, please help us too,” city’s rag pickers say to Mamata Banerjee.
They have informed the chief minister’s office that they will stage a padayatra from Park Circus to Kalighat to draw the CM’s attention to their plight.
With KMC introducing compactors and Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, about 20,000 rag pickers have been deprived of their livelihood in the city. They now want a rehabilitation plan from the government. The number of rag pickers is 1.1 lakh in greater Kolkata and Howrah.
“Our livelihood is gone. The open vats have been replaced by giant compactor machines and we can’t reach their entrails to sift garbage. In almost all neighbourhoods KMC sends vans to collect garbage. We have lost our livelihood. We are glad that Mamata Banerjee helped the farmers of Singurs. We want to reach out to her and appeal to save us and our families,” said Md Azad, senior member of Rag pickers Association.
The association was floated with the help of a city-based NGO, Tiljala Shed Camp, which provides education and medicines to the community in various parts of the city, including Park circus, Tiljala, Topisa and Rajabazar.
On behalf of the rag pickers, the NGO placed a formal letter to CM”s office on Monday. The rag- pickers, a few hundred of them with posters and placards, plan to march from Park Circus to Kalighat, where they want to hand over their petition to the CM. It will be a silent march.
“We want these helpless rag-pickers to be part of the development initiative of Mamata Banerjee. These people have no social security, no jobs and no future. We appeal to the chief minister to give them alternate livelihood. They can be trained and included in Swacch Bharat Abhiyan,” said Tausif Rehman, vice president of the NGO.
According to the NGO, there is little or no government sponsored schemes for the welfare of the rag-pickers, neither they are entitled for central or state schemes for labour.
“If there is no help coming, they may be forced into addictions, stealing and other anti-social activities. Something needs to be done immediately. We are trying to spread awareness about the community with MLAs and MPs,” Rehman added.
The rag-pickers who dwell in slums and pavements, tour the streets, lanes and by lanes in Kolkata sifting through the garbage to pick up paper, plastic bag, tin, iron scarps and bottles. Even two years ago, each individual used to earn Rs 300 per day with four to five hours of work. Now, despite devoting 12 hours, the income has dropped to an average of less than Rs 50.
The rag pickers, who mostly live in slums in Kolkata, have also been demanding for their voter identity cards and bank accounts.
In 2013, KMC took an initiative to make Kolkata a vat-free city and introduced compactor stations. This system hinges on garbage directly being unloaded into a bin cart and then into the compactor for automatic compression inside the machines during daytime. In the night, mechanical lifters take away the compactors filled with garbage and drive down to the Dhapa dumping ground.