Eight years ago, a Bandra-based advocate took an initiative to help better the lives of ragpickers and his step motivated many people in the profession to overcome the hurdles that stood in their way to a better life.
Vinod Shetty, 54, a human rights and labour laws advocate, started an NGO called ACORN Foundation that initiated the Dharavi Project. Under this, they set up centres for dry waste segregation at Dharavi, helped over 1,000 children working as ragpickers by educating them and providing them with sports and music training.
Shetty has also been appealing to educational institutions and office complexes since 2008 about segregating dry and wet waste daily.
“The reason we began our project was that most of these ragpickers lived in Dharavi slums. We wanted to reduce their effort of moving around the city and build a bridge between waste collectors, segregators and producers (office complexes, educational institutes),” Shetty said while adding that the NGO motivated 25 children, who had formed a percussion band with blue-coloured recycling tumblers found in Dharavi slum as
instruments, to perform for live audiences.
The Dharavi project began after a documentary called ‘Waste’ was directed by filmmaker Parashar Baruah with Shetty’s help. “We came across a group of ragpicking teenagers who collected plastic mixed with sludge by going into mangrove areas near Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). The sight was frightening and we needed to do something about it,” he said.
Within a few months, the lawyer invested Rs1 lakh from his own savings and helped construct a 500 sq ft waste segregation centre at Dharavi where 350 ragpickers were given identity cards and sensitised about the harmful effects of waste.
The lawyer and his group reached out to students of Class 5 and above in schools like Oberoi International School in Goregaon, American School of Bombay in Kurla and BKC, Deutsche Sehule Bombay International School in Breach Candy and three office complexes in Lower Parel.
They collect a tonne of dry waste from each of the schools and office complexes on a 15-day basis, which is directly sent to the recycling facility at Dharavi.
“We made an organised workplace where dry waste could easily be segregated into plastic, paper, metal, cardboard and thermocol. The waste pickers were earning Rs 5-12 for different types of plastic earlier but this
system helped them give well-segregated material back to industries and this bumped up their earnings to Rs 250 to 300 per day,” said Shetty.
Swapna Trivedy, a teacher with Oberoi International School, said, “People like Vinod Shetty, who have the ability to change lives, have been a big inspiration for my students. Thanks to his efforts, my students realised the difficulties faced by kids of the same age at Dharavi and started taking initiative not to discard but make the best use out of school waste.”
“The voluntary contribution towards segregating waste and reducing the burden on city dumping grounds is commendable. But the main issue that the group has highlighted is protecting the livelihood and respect of Dharavi recyclers, who make the baseline of city’s waste management,” said Chandrakant Tambe, junior overseer, solid waste management department of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.