Rama Krishna Sangem
For the first time in Hyderabad, garbage collectors formed a union. Socially marginalized and financially impoverished, these garbage collectors who play a major role in the city’s environment protection, sanitation and hygiene keep up are now asking for some kind of social security and livelihood guarantee. Hyderabad based Montfort Social Institute has taken this initiative of mobilsing the garbage workers.
In a remarkable display of unity and determination, over five hundred garbage collectors employed with Swach Auto Tippers in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) gathered at the City Convention of Hyderabad Garbage Collectors’ Collective (HyGCC).
Organized by Montfort Social Institute, India Network for Basic Income Foundation, and WorkFREE, the convention took place at the Montfort Social Institute (MSI) in Ramanthapur, Hyderabad. At this important step towards collectivizing themselves, the garbage collectors shed light on their pressing demands and the lack of their basic rights and entitlements as they work in keeping the city clean and healthy protecting the city’s environment.
Bro. Varghese Theckanath, Director of MSI in his welcome note shared that the garbage collectors are often excluded from significant events, such as the World Environment Day celebrations or when the city receives awards for cleanliness, despite their vital role in maintaining the city's cleanliness. He said collectivisation is a very important way to claim the rights and put forth the demands.
Justice B. Chandra Kumar, retired judge of High Court, addressed the concerning trend of privatization in garbage collection. He highlighted the government's shift in responsibility, outsourcing waste management to corporate entities like Ramky. This shift, he argued, raised questions about accountability and workers' livelihood rights.
Memorandum of Demands Announcing the formulation of a comprehensive memorandum encompassing the demands voiced at the convention, Dr. Sarath Davala, from INBI Foundation said that the memorandum, representing the collective aspirations of the garbage collectors, will be presented to the Chief Minister of Telangana.
The memorandum includes formal recognition of garbage collectors as essential workers by the government, enumeration of their numbers by GHMC and the labor department of the Telangana government, registration of their names, provision of identity cards, and the establishment of a helpline app to address workplace harassment grievances.
They seek basic facilities
The convention also called for stricter implementation of household-level garbage segregation to reduce the challenges faced by collectors during manual segregation. Asking for 2BHK House, the challenges of a lack of parking space, house owners refusing to give houses for rent for garbage collectors and the conditions of the slums they live in were highlighted. With huge part of their income going towards health expenditure, they demanded that ESI be extended to them alongside government providing Health, Life and Accident Insurance.
Without any salary, social security or protections provided by GHMC, the garbage collectors only rely on the money given by householders for their income. While most houses pay Rs. 100 per house per month, several houses delay payments. With rising fuel prices and maintenance costs, the collective demanded that the fee per household must be revised to Rs. 250 per month from the households and an annual vehicular maintenance grant of Rs. 25,000 and vehicle insurance from the government.
The convention was enriched by the experiences shared by Samuel Anil from Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers and Durga Devi from Hasiru Dala. They spoke about their efforts in organizing waste pickers in other cities, highlighting the importance of solidarity and collective action. Their stories served as a source of inspiration, showcasing the impact of organized efforts in improving the lives and working conditions of waste pickers across the country. Addressing the convention, eminent civil society activists, Professor Haragopal expressed .
his deep gratitude to garbage collectors for their exceptional service, especially during the challenging times of the COVID-19 lockdowns. He lauded their bravery, underscoring that while the world stayed indoors, these unsung heroes ventured out, risking their lives to maintain cleanliness and sanitation. He hailed them as social warriors, acting as the first line of defense against diseases and infections in society. Professor Padmaja Shah and Dr. Vanamala,
Women’s movement crucial
highlighted how women’s role in the movement is crucial as they form a large part of garbage collection community. Prof. Shah shared that in certain cities garbage collectors reject to take garbage if it is not segregated. Several garbage collectors including Madhavi, Yadagiri, Salamma, Krishnaveni, Mallesh shared touching but powerful experiences of discrimination, challenges and concerns they face as they collect garbage every day. As the children of garbage collectors performed a skit displaying the indignity and discrimination faced at work, their was unison in the demand for dignity for garbage collectors. One most important demand was that they be called by their names and not ‘Chetha Ammayi or Chetha Abbayi’
The event served as a significant platform to amplify the voices of these essential workers, demanding social security, dignity, and fair treatment. As Hyderabad's unsung heroes continue their struggle for recognition and respect, their determination remains unshakable, inspiring the community to acknowledge their invaluable contributions contributions and work towards a more just and equitable society.