With the urban areas spreading their boundaries to the rural areas, there are more people who are out of jobs. These people are unskilled, uneducated and illiterate. The easiest way which they find to support their life is by rag picking which is a self-employed job without any specific work timings.
It is estimated that there are at least 15 lakh scrap and waste collectors in India alone.
The flexibility of it even encourages the women folk to enter into this profession as they can strategically decide on the time when they have to work and when they have to take care of their family. This explains the higher percentage of women employed in this profession.
Ragpickers constitute a huge informal sector which works in an organized way. They have different groups within the community who segregate specific items. While few focus on copper, few others would pick plastics, and few glass, metallic pieces, rubber products, e-waste and so on. These components when sold to a client would fetch them money depending on the market force then. For example, in Kodingyur, iron was prices at Rs 18/kilo, copper at Rs 350/kilo, Aluminium at Rs 60/kilo, bottles at Rs 35/kilo and Masalas (Tin and plastic) at Rs 30/kilo. The money received would be enough to just about keep their family from starving and get the basic necessities.
Trash industry as a whole in itself is worth $410 million worldwide per year.In 2005, SAAHAS, a Bangalore based Waste Advocacy group estimated that gold extraction alone from Bangalore budding e-waste recycling industry was worth $1 million.
It is said that the landfill emissions are projected to increase to nearly 75% in 2050. With the segregation process done by the rag pickers, the materials like plastics and other materials which can’t be disposed are removed from the heap of waste. This is turn reduces pollution when the heap is burnt in open or in incinerators.
According to the 2010 UN Habitat Publication, the waste pickers perform 50% to 100% of all ongoing waste collection with no cost to the city budget. Thus, the intervention of Garbage collectors brings in huge amounts of profits for the official garbage collection committee. In Delhi alone, it saves the Municipal Corporation Rs 600000 in daily waste disposal costs.
However, for the amount of work they do there is no official recognition given by the Government. There is no insurance provided and no option of pensions in their field of employment. Also, there is no guarantee on a stable monthly income as the prices of the components which they pick change depending on the market force and are further manipulated by the clients or scrap dealers they work for. On an average they receive Rs 100 to Rs 150 for 8 hours of work.
With no footwear or gloves used while working, the ragpickers are susceptible to all sorts of diseases ranging from the respiratory problems to the heart ailments. There have been accidents, garbage avalanches which remain to be unspoken about or even urged for a solution. In 2001, Ragpicking was included among the hazardous occupations banned under Child Labour(Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
Children as young as 4 years old assist their parents in the job to supplement income for the family. This deprives them of the basic education which in turn deprives them of a better livelihood in the future. Without any footwear or health precautionary measures, they suffer from diseases which later aggravate and result in the low life expectancy levels in the community as a whole. This form of child labour is a usual sight in the landfills.
Children grow up without being aware that there are better opportunities outside the life they lead. Even though their parents work hard to ensure that at least their kids are rescued from falling into taking up this job, the meager income pressurizes every member of the family to contribute.
It is also observed that the rag pickers are usually from the lower castes. No Brahmins or upper caste people can be seen taking up these professions. Thus, there arises a question of caste discrimination and equality. If this is an impact of the rigorous caste issues which our country has been having for centuries, isn’t it time we erase it?