INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS IN INDIA
The anatomy of Indian economy is often described in terms of a vector of sectors: private sector, joint sector, tiny sector so on and so forth. To this list adds one more sector the informal sector. The informal sector is a respectable designation used by the economists who have their own ways of covering up urban poverty by inventing rather neutral phraseology. The informal sector plays a major role in Indian economy which begins to dominate in providing gainful employment opportunity to millions of people. It also contributes significant share to the nation’s output. It is estimated that two−fifths of Gross Domestic Product is generated from the informal sector and 90 per cent of the families are depending on this sector directly and indirectly for their survival. The study of informal sector has become increasingly popular not only in Economics but also in Sociology and Anthropology. Heith Hart was the first person to introduce the term "informal sector". The informal dichotomy was also first used by Heith Hart while making a presentation on "informal income opportunities and urban employment in Ghana in the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at a conference (1971) coorganised by Rita Cruise O’ Brien and Richard Jolly on urban employment in Africa, months before International Labour Organization (ILO) employment mission to Kenya came with its report "Employment, Incomes and Equality".
Sethuraman (1998) argued that such a dichotomy into formal and informal is but a caricature of real economy, because both formal and informal parts exhibit considerable diversity. The existence of the informal economy complicates analysis of economic and social systems. Informal activity in the developing world is primarily an unregulated but productive activity, generally seen as a survival activity of the poor.
In the developed world, this kind of activity is relatively small. An element of illegality is usually present in the informal activity in developed countries, most often tax evasion in production and distribution. The informal activity is unpaid household work, which again has engaged greater attention in developed countries. According to Visaria (1966), the informal economy in India employs about 90 percent of the country’s workforce and 97 percent of its women workers. Many of these workers are primary earners for their families. Their earnings are necessary for their sheer survival.
In India, according to the National Sample Survey 1999−2000, the total workforce is in the order of 406 million, of which only 7 percent of workforce is employed in the formal or organized sector while remaining 93 percent of work force is in the informal or unorganized sector. Most of the informal employment may be similar to formal employment in terms of work done, with the difference that it is performed without regular contracts, generally for small and unregistered enterprises and within a different system of incentives and controls. But, there are categories of informal employment that do not have a counterpart within formal system. These include self − employed workers such as home based workers, street vendors, dairying, ironing, barber, waste collectors, cobbler, shoe shiner, rickshaw pullers and so on.
Characteristics of informal economy
The absence of official protection and recognition, coverage of minimum wage legislation and social security system, predominance of own−account and self employment work, low, rare and irregular income, little job security, no fringe benefits from institutional sources, working hours are irregular, there is no permanent place for their work, absence of restrictive standards and regulations and state aid is almost nil.
Causes of informal economy
The development in the Third world during the second half of the Twentieth century assumed unprecedented growth of population and Labour force notably in large cities. Lewis, Fei, and Rains, in their two sector model for the development of labour force in these overpopulated developing countries, argued that the surplus labour from the agricultural sector would be gradually absorbed in the dynamic urban economy as industrial sector expands, contrary to this assumption, the rate of employment creation failed to keep pace with the high and rising rates of growth of labour force.
In other words, the labour absorption capacity of the industrial sector became more sluggish than one assumed. It is because process of industrialization adopted by most of the developing countries basically is capital intensive as is in the case of developed countries. The labour intensive activities alone could be the major alternative for a country like India.
PROBLEMS OF INFORMAL ECONOMY
Labourers in urban informal sector are not able to protect their interests due to lack of organization. The basic problem is small size of enterprises and scattered labour with diverse interests which makes the organization of labour difficult. The basic difficulties are: " Absence of clear employee employer relations leaves these workers in flexible structures. The relationship varies from one employment to another employment. Further their working in very small scattered units makes the mobilization and organization extremely difficult.
A large section of these workers has little education and poor skills. Workers are unable to enjoy access to institutional credit and other facilities. Many of the workers, especially women workers, are exploited with low wages and bad working conditions. Prevalence of child labour and its exploitation. Absence of any type of social security. Poor living conditions with most of them living in slums, under unhygienic working conditions. Little access to formal and informal education. Lack of political and social will to influence policies and plans. Dependence of kinship, caste, regional ties for employment and survival. Lack of equal wages for equal work for men and women and low wages for hard work.
THE INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS
Waste collection in India goes back to the 17th century, where bones, rags and paper were among the first commodities to be collected. The caste system in Indian society, which continues to exist, is a determining factor in the solid waste management system. Waste picking, along with any work related to garbage or the handling of carcasses and human excreta is traditionally bound with the lowest caste. The historical evidence of the immigration of low caste workers to Delhi during the war was due to shortage of labour to handle waste in the city due to which many Bangladeshi migrants and their families have also been working in the field of waste. Because of their involvement and filthy work environment, the occupation of waste picking has traditionally been held in low esteem by the population and by political decision makers.
There is no other social category which has been prepared to start waste picking, even in times of poverty and hardship, which offers at least some degree of guaranteed job security to waste collectors in India.
Meaning of waste collector
The term waste collector is a person employed by a public or private enterprise to collect and remove from residential, commercial, industrial or other collection sites for further processing and disposal. Specialized waste collection vehicles featuring an array of automated functions are often deployed to assist waste collectors in reducing collection and transporting time.
The term "waste collector" commonly refers to the task of extracting reusable or recyclable materials from mixed wastes. Many waste collectors also sort or segregate waste and sell it further up to the recycling chain.
According to Samson, the term waste collectors can be broadly defined as people who reclaim "reusable materials from what others have cast aside as waste".
SOCIO−ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS
Nowadays the large number of poor people is associated with the waste management in India. The recent study estimates that about 1 to 2 percent of the urban population in India is active in the informal recycling sector. The informal waste sector is socially stratified in a pyramid with scrap collectors at the bottom and re−processors at the top.
The informal waste collector sector really constitutes the hard working poor whose toils are disproportionately larger to their earnings. The earnings of waste collectors vary form country to country, type of work they do and for women and men. After a whole day’s hard labour, a worker earns about Rs.40 compared to above Rs.160 the wage rate per day prevailing in the formal sector. The informal waste collectors are vulnerable to exploitation by the middlemen who buy recovered waste materials from them before selling to industry. The Indian waste collectors can receive as low as 5%of the price, industry pays for recyclables, middlemen getting more gain in this business. Generally waste collectors have low income, lack of drinking water, poor sanitation and other basic infrastructure. As a result of their poor living conditions and nature of work, the waste collectors face many problems.
PROBLEMS OF INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS
The informal waste collectors face tremendous health and safety risks like extreme temperatures, wind, rain, sun, faecal, animal carcasses, broken glass, needles, sharp material objects, above all, diseases transmitted by vermin, flies and masquitoes, back pain and limp pain, skin irritation and rashes and specific high risk tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, dysentery and parasites. It comes as no surprise; high infant mortality rates and low expectancies are common problems in the life of waste collectors. In addition, public authorities often treat them as nuisances, embarrassments, or even criminals. They tend to have low social status and face public scorn, harassment and occasional violence. They are treated as nuisances by authorities and with disdain by the public and they are ignored by public policy processes and thus they frequently suffer mentally and physically.
In recent times, privatization of municipal solid waste management services threatens the zabaleen community of waste collectors in many cities in India. The global recession has hit waste collectors hard and the global approaches to change mitigation, such as funding for incinerators and waste−to− energy plants that burn materials which waste collectors could otherwise recycle, threaten rather than reward waste collectors.
IMPORTANCE OF INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS
Millions of people worldwide make a living by collecting, sorting and selling materials that others have thrown away. They are vital actors of informal economy. The informal waste collectors perform an essential role in the economies and societies of developing countries at large. Waste collectors provide widespread benefits to their communities, municipalities and the environment.
1. Source of employment and income
For many people in developing countries, especially those with limited education or
opportunities, waste collection offers a livelihood. The waste collection work is the main source of employment and income of the urban poor in India, because they are affected by the problem of unemployment. The World Bank estimates that nearly 1 percent of the urban population in developing countries earns a living through waste collection or process of recycling. A more recent study in India estimates that waste collectors are numbering 1.5 million, primarily women and those from socially marginalized group.
2. Raw material for industrial sector
The waste collections of materials are important raw material for industrial sector in developing countries. India is an industrially developing country. It importantly needs more investment and raw materials in low cost. But the main problems of the industrial sector is non− availability of raw materials. The waste collectors provide inexpensive recycled materials to industries; this reduces the need for expensive imports. Bottles, waste papers, plastic damaged materials are the main things in the collection of wastes by the urban poor.
3. Municipal expenses are reduced
The informal subsidization of solid waste management systems has reduced the municipal expenses. Waste collectors reduce the amount of waste that needs to be collected, transported and disposed of with public funds and they save each city in India at least Rs.50 lakh per year.
4. Environmental sustainability
Waste collectors are working for their daily wages, but they are improving the environment. Most of the urban areas are affected by pollution; it affects the health and sanitation of human beings. Informal waste collectors play an important role in removing wastes and improving the welfare of the people.
The waste collection work contributes to environmental sustainability. In many cities in India, informal waste collection and recycling is the only kind of recycling that occurs at all. It decreases the amount of virgin materials used by industries, stores, households, hotels, markets etc, thereby conserving natural resources and energy while reducing air and water pollution. It also reduces the amount of land that is needed for dumps and landfills.
DEMANDS OF INFORMAL WASTE COLLECTORS
The informal waste collectors are economically, socially and politically poor. Their standard of living can be improved by various plans and schemes of the government. The common demands of the waste collectors are large. They are, identification, recognition and identity cards, right to work or have access to waste, provision of sites to sell waste, provision of facilities for collection and sorting of waste, sanitary and storage facilities, healthcare and social security provisons, credit or loan facilities, granting of rights to collect scrap for recycling, provisions of drinking water, toilet, creche facilities at dumping grounds and land fill sites, child labour should not be allowed, institutionalizing informal waste collectors into doorstep or other collection, encouragement and support for organizations of waste collectors financial and non financial. They are also demanding better enforcement of social security
schemes of the state and national policies for promoting solid waste management.
Organizational developments for the informal waste collectors
Waste collectors, known for their independence and individualism, are increasingly motivating to organize and fight for recognition within a formal waste management system. They are organizing in many different ways like cooperatives, associations, companies, unions, micro−enterprises etc., some are even forming " women only" organizations in order to better confront gender inequalities. Since 1972, many efforts have been made by NGOs to organize the waste collectors, but the results do not yet extend across India, due to the predominance of women in waste collection. Women organizations were the first to cast light on waste collectors and their interests. These approaches encouraged waste collectors to change to work which is less demeaning to their dignity and less hazardous to their health. In 1990 the Project for the Empowerment of Waste Collectors of the Women’s University in Pune in Western India started organizing waste collectors on their work issues. In subsequent years waste collector organizations were formed in Delhi, Bangalore and other cities.
All of the organizations underscored the value and the work of informal sector waste collectors. The Swavlamban Social Security Pension Scheme for the informal workers has been enacted by the central government on 9th August 2010 for the welfare of the informal sector workers including waste collectors. The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme facilitates the Below Poverty Line people aged between 60 to 80 year to get pension of Rs 500 per month. The organizational and the government support increases the social status, self esteem, income, quality of life, working conditions, better health quality, development of networks, prevention of harassment, violence and thus eliminates the child labour.
There are millions of waste collectors worldwide, but little reliable socio−economic or statistical information exists. Most studies are qualitative and a few quantitative studies also exist. Since waste collectors are mobile and their population can frequently fluctuate by season, estimation of their total population is difficult and making it harder to the researchers to collect sound data. The growth of population, industries and changes in the living style of the people lead to an increase in the waste all over the world. Particularly in India it is also a biggest problem to the flora and fauna. On the other side it creates more employment opportunities for the poor. Hence, the waste collectors should be encouraged by the government by fulfilling the demand of these people to protect their standard of living and the environment of India.
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