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An autonomous enterprise, SWaCH provides front-end waste management services, Savita Narayan reports
SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling)—the institutional outcome of the trade union Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat—is authorised by the Pune Municipal Corporation to manage waste right from collection at the door-step to sustainable solid waste management. It effectively merges the interests of the waste-picker in increasing livelihood, the household in waste disposal and the municipality in waste management. SWaCH is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self employed waste-pickers and other urban poor.
About 3,000 waste-pickers from SWaCH reach 0.25 million Pune households every day. Organic, kitchen waste is composted (70%), waste-pickers sell plastic, paper, etc as scrap (15%) and the remainder is sent to the landfill at Urali (15%). “In 2000, Municipal Solid Waste Rules came into force due to plague in Surat and the perseverance of RTI activists. Municipalities were bound to manage waste. In Pune, putting thousands of existing waste-pickers out of a job was not considered the solution. They need flexible timings due to family commitments. Our model ensures that women have ownership of the waste. The family segregates it and gets paid daily. If we privatise, households will go without pay while the private collector gets paid by the tonne,” says Malati Gadgil, CEO, SWaCH.
SWaCH believes the waste-picker must be co-opted into the process, not removed from it. She will work only when it’s worth her while—earning from user fees and the sale proceeds of waste. SWaCH ensures receipt of user fee from households and regularises her attendance. Waste-pickers reduce the burden on the municipality; lessen transportation, land filling and disposal costs. However, waste-pickers figure very low on the social scale and face brutality by the police and the public. Nearly 95% are illiterate; many are from dysfunctional homes. They garner skills and knowledge to earn minimum rates.
Low mobility workers such as the elderly and mothers of infants can supplement their income by selling second-hand clothes in vastis. In 1989, SWaCH organised the waste- pickers, providing a photo ID that offered them much-needed dignity and authorisation. SWaCH has held sensitivity classes for the police. The Jana Arogya policy offers medical coverage up to Rs5,000. An LIC policy, partly paid for by the waste-pickers, is available. The education of waste-pickers’ children is important. SWaCH does not condone school-age children picking waste. The photo passes of mothers are confiscated for non-compliance. “It’s an uphill task generating awareness that child labour is unacceptable when even movies like Kahaani glorify it,” says Malati Gadgil.
Waste-pickers want their children to study. The trade union offers scholarships, pays for books and has a free loan scheme for higher education. E-waste management rules of 2011 specify the way in which potentially extremely hazardous substances are to be handled. SWaCH offers training in collection, sorting and some dismantling of such waste which fetches additional income. The Pune model works with the participation of waste-pickers, SWaCH, citizens and the municipality nagar sevak. The waste-picker puts back about 5% of the user fee into SWaCH, which also raises funds independently. The municipality pays for semi-formal staff in SWaCH and for equipment: push carts, buckets, coats, I-cards.
SWaCH imparts training such as driving tempos and cycles, and holds song workshops, English speaking classes and yoga. Waste-pickers have been to conferences globally as public speakers. A half-hour film on client interaction trains these women who live and work in rough public areas. Improving the livelihood of waste-pickers is Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of dignity of labour in practice. SWaCH welcomes volunteers to the organisation. Cheques made out to Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat for donations to SWaCH can be sent to the address alongside.
SWaCH Pune Seva Sahakari Sanstha Maryadi
Kothrud Kachara Depot,
Kothrud, Pune-411 038
E-mail: [email protected]