Rihana Khan, 34, walks 10km every day from her home in Rafi Nagar, Govandi to the Deonar dumping ground and works for eight hours in the dump to pick up dismantled plastic and glass pieces.
Like Khan, the Deonar dumping ground has become a source of daily income for approximately 20,000 other Rafi Nagar residents. But there is no drinking water facility or toilets for them. Their daily earnings vary from a Rs 50 to Rs 250.
These ragpickers, who work without any safety gear such as gloves and masks, provide a thankless service to a city, where the civic body and citizens have violated the rules by failing to segregate waste.
Working in adverse conditions to feed themselves, these workers demand recognition by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) because they feel they are ones who are doing the BMC’s work.
“We have provided identity cards to 575 people working under us with the BMC’s cooperation, but we are unaware about the condition of the rest because there are thousands of people working on this ground,” said Rahul Chavan, field officer, Apnalaya, a not-for-profit organisation.
Khan also said there were bigger concerns for women ragpickers, who are often subjected to harassment by the ‘mafia’ that operates in the dumping grounds.
“I leave early in the morning at five and return by 11am so that I don’t get troubled by them,” said Khan.
Until three years ago, 35-year-old Suman Kapure’s story was similar when she roamed the streets of Malad in search of community bins, housing societies and hotels to collect dry garbage.
In 2011, she was given membership by the non-government organisation, Aakar Mumbai, which worked with the BMC to provide ragpickers like her an identity card and a roofed space in Dahisar to sort the waste they collect.
“People think of us as thieves. But if we do not handle and sort their waste paper, plastic and glass bottles and send them for recycling, from where will they get to use these things again?” said Bijla Kapure, 30, another worker.
The Kapures work from 8am to 5pm at the BMC’s dry waste centre in Dahisar, sorting 150 kg of waste into categories of glass, plastic and paper. They earn Rs 200 to Rs 250 each daily by selling the sorted waste for Rs 5 per kg to the scrap dealer.