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Citizens’ failure forces SWaCH women to segregate filthy garbage in Pune

Work involves picking soiled sanitary pads, used condoms and rotting food with their bare hands

pune Updated: Nov 15, 2017 15:29 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
SWaCH,Citizens’ failure,segregate filthy garbage
A waste-picker surrounded by heaps of garbage at Baner waste sorting shed on Tuesday.(SANKET WANKHADE/HT PHOTO)

Poor women segregating filthy garbage with their bare hands, which includes rotting food, used condoms and sanitary pads, has now become institutionalised in Pune.

While majority of residents are refusing to segregate dry and wet waste at home, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has also failed in imposing stiff fines on housing societies which do not segregate garbage. Even where garbage is segregated half-heartedly by residents, waste-pickers of SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling Pune Seva Cooperative Ltd.) have to do the de-humanising work of segregating it. At Baner, a 3,000 sq ft ‘model’ material recovery shed has been set up on the roadside behind Kapil Malhar Society. It was constructed in 2016 by PMC to help accommodate and solve the problem of segregation of waste on the open roads after complaints from residents in various areas.

Know what kind of garbage is generated in city and from where
Of the total 1,700 metric tonnes of garbage generated in a day in Pune, 40% is the garbage generated at the household level, which is mostly not segregated
Solid waste generation in Pune city
Graphics: Hitesh Mathur | Source: PMC’s Environment Status Report 2016-17

Inside this shed, about 40 waste pickers from Patil Estate Slums, work from 8 am to 6 pm every day without a break, although they have an option of taking a holiday. They prefer not to because there is a mountain of garbage which accumulates almost instantaneously if not tackled.

At the entrance, two old garbage cans are full to the brim with wet garbage, while inside the shed are women and men busy sorting out dry garbage collected from societies. Sitting among the heaps of garbage is Prabhavati Khandale who has been working as a waste-picker for the last 17 years. “My husband and I work together and are collectively paid around ₹12,000 a month.”

As she sifts through the huge trash bag, her deft fingers separate the unwanted things and put them into the non-recycle bin next to her. “Despite public campaigns on disposal of sanitary napkins, women tend to throw them in just like that,” she said.

With her bare hands, Khandale then wraps the soiled sanitary pad with another soiled newspaper before disposing it into the bin. “The SWaCH even spent a lot of money to publicise the red dot campaign so that these waste pickers would not have to pick out these soiled sanitary napkins while sorting garbage. However, that is yet to pick up,” said Khandale.

According to Anuja Verurkar, who recently joined SWaCH as a co-ordinator, there are 2,800 waste pickers in the city and they are divided according to area density. Baner- Balewadi has 250 waste pickers working on picking and sorting garbage.

She said that the NGO has provided the waste pickers with uniforms which consists of an apron, gloves and a mouth mask to avoid any kind of medical issues. “But most of the workers prefer to work with bare hands and also shed the apron for it is very hot inside the shed,” said Verurkar.

The waste-pickers said that if they the wear gloves, it slows them down. Most of the women also find “balloons” (used condoms) just thrown in without any wrappings. “It is something we can’t avoid picking up with our hands and then segregate it. But, we wash our hands at least thrice a day with soap provided by PMC,” said a waste-picker.

Working conditions are abysmally poor. They have to be on the lookout for snakes, scorpions and mosquitoes. The toilets built for them at the shed do not even have doors. Women like Sakarbai Vilas Gaikwad chew tobacco - unmindful of the hazards - because, she said, it makes their filthy work easier. “It helps us overcome the putrid smell of rotting garbage. ” Although, SWaCH has instituted prizes and scholarships for children of waste-pickers, most of them are unhappy that they can’t avail any of those benefits. They say that their children are not smart enough to get the benefits and scholarships.

They complained that even the medical facilities offered by SWaCH look good only on paper. “We have been given a medical card which states a list of hospitals where we can go in case of an emergency; but when we go there, we are turned away,” said Ameena Sheikh. There is no electricity as the work ends by evening, although a placard states that this shed is under CCTV surveillance. A SWaCH representative Suchismita Pai, agreed that the sorting shed does not have a gate and fencing. She added that the delay is from the PMC end and the toilet doors were stolen recently.

First Published: Nov 15, 2017 14:12 IST