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Issue 48
April , 2014
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Ragpicker to environmentalist: Garbage's elevating tale

Source: Times of India, Date: April , 2014

BANGALORE: "Kashtana?" (Is it difficult?) "Parvagilla" (It is okay). Pat comes the reply from 38-year-old R Annamma, who sits amid huge piles of mixed dry waste at the dry waste collection centre in Kamakshipalya, West Bangalore. The centre manager has several reasons to be content.

A ragpicker all her life, Annamma rummaged around in waste piled on roadsides and vacant plots. She then sold what she had picked to a local dealer. But a meeting last year with volunteers of Hasiru Dala, an NGO, changed her fortunes.

Hasiru Dala believes the cornerstone of any strategy to manage Bangalore's humungous waste should be to give all waste managers of the city an identity and transform them into environmentalists.

It took days for Hasiru Dala volunteers to convince Annamma to change her ways of managing waste. She was first given an identity card reducing the conflicts she earlier had with law enforcing authorities. She underwent a five-week training at Jain University, where her business management skills were honed and she was equipped with the expertise required to manage a waste collection centre.

Annamma was then put in charge of the Kamakshipalya dry waste collection centre. Her job: To sort waste generated by the ward, quantify the waste category-wise and sell it to assigned dealers once a month.

A typical day for Annamma now starts at 5.30am when she sets out for work. "It's a lot of hard work but at the end of the month, I am assured of a fixed salary," says Annamma, who clears 8-10 tonnes of dry waste every month.

With the waste burden in front of her mounting, Annamma does not want to take chances. She goes on segregating waste and putting them in earmarked zones even as she continues to talk.

Her eyes light up at the mention of her children. "I have three daughters," the proud mother says. She hastens to add that her children too are proud of her.

Will they join her at work? Highly unlikely given that the eldest, Jyoti, has written SSLC exams this year and hopes to become an engineer. The second one, 14-year-old Manjula, wants to join the police force while the youngest, Yashoda, aspires to become a lawyer.

"What they want to become is up to them. I will back them to the hilt," says Annamma, who earns Rs 350 a day. Her husband, who also works as a waste sorter at her centre, earns Rs 300 a day.

As a responsible citizen of Namma Bengaluru, Annamma voted last week. Who did she vote for? "That's a secret," she signs off.

The burden of waste

There are 55 dry waste collection centres in Bangalore. They are crucial in streamlining the city's solid waste management strategies. Most of these centres are managed by women.

Though the target is to have a dry waste collection centre in each of the city's 198 wards, operational issues have restricted the numbers and some centres end up managing huge quantities of waste.

I Ambika, who is the waste segregation manager at the Vyalikava centre, handles 17 tonnes of dry waste monthly. The class V dropout handles waste from four BBMP wards and apartments at Malleswaram and manages accounts at her centre.

"We sort out plastic, cotton, gauges, bottles and other things categorized under 22 types of dry waste," says the mother of three children.Fixed working hours, a regular monthly salary and proper scheduling of their responsibilities are what make waste managers look forward to doing their job every day.

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