June 2, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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In a large pile of rubbish in the Indian capital, a large number of men are constantly disposing of garbage dumped by hundreds of trucks in search of a piece of plastic or a glass bottle that cannot be resold.

It is one of the more than 3,000 large garbage dumps in Indian cities and costs over Rs. 1.4 trillion (approximately $ 18.9 billion) in investment was removed and the government promised this month to replace the waste treatment plants.

25 years of garbage

Lachiram unloads his truck four times a day and picks up garbage from all over South Delhi, cautiously climbing to a height equivalent to sixteen floors from the Okhla garbage depot.

It is a pile of rubbish that has been piled up for twenty-five years, the ruins of a huge 14th century Tughlaqbad fort, a hospital beneath it and a nearby slum.

“We get three to five hundred lorries a day,” Ravikumar, a junior engineer at Garbage Mound, explains to Efe from his office in the shadow of Garbage Hill.

Trucks climb to the top and dump tons of garbage, and numerous collectors try to find pieces of plastic, although according to Kumar, their presence is technically prohibited by order of a special environmental court.

Informal workers

1.5 to 4 million people are part of the lowest link in the army of informal workers who make a living from garbage collection, they collect and separate 1.5 to 4 million people’s garbage, often without any protection, resale plastic and metal. Survival glass and card.

“This is the reason why these employees we live with do not drown in our own waste by collecting garbage informally,” agrees Efe, director of the Center for Urban Solid Waste at the Center for Science and the Environment. CSE), its Biswas.

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The CSE, stigmatized for working in the garbage, recently summed up that most of them are “untouchables” or Dalits, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.

In the “Caste Republic” (2018), scholar Anand Teldumde writes that “some deny that the rubbish belonging to India is everywhere,” “that the cleaning work is unclean and that the cleaners are untouchable”.

Garbage explosion and low segregation

Although nearly 70% of the population still lives in rural areas, the country, with a population of about 1.3 billion, according to the last national census conducted in 2011, has experienced an urban explosion in recent decades.

The amount of garbage produced each day has grown accordingly, and according to a recent CSE report by the Informal Garbage Department, the country produces 62 million tons each year.

Only 19% of the total waste is treated in waste management plants and the rest ends up in one of the 3,159 landfills, which, according to the Indian government, has already accumulated 800 million tonnes of waste.

“If we have to focus on the origin of all the problems, it will result in a very small amount of waste segregation,” Biswas explains.

Despite the laws in force, large junk manufacturers such as Indian households and the hotel industry or offices often mix organic waste with recyclable materials.

According to the expert, “When food is mixed with other waste, the value of both is lost (…) and the only way is to collect everything and dump it somewhere outside the city.”

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However, the Indian government claims that 70% of the waste generated is “processed”. But Biswas regrets that it is a much broader term than secession, which officials have stopped sharing since last year.

However, according to Biswas, “things are changing, albeit much slower than we need to”.

Riding Indian cities in the trash

On October 1, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the new phase of the “Swach Bharat” (Clean India) project to improve waste management, initially dedicated to building millions of toilets to stop air defecation.

In total, it will cost $ 18.9 billion over the next five years, with a “special focus” on informal workers and the removal of the “main purpose” mountain of garbage.

Bharathi Chaturvedi, founder of environmental volunteer think tank Chintan, believes that the strength of the project is that “they really inspire house separation”.

“It’s about time,” says Chaturvedi, “without doing anything, there can be no citizens who only complain about already paying taxes.”

But the activist is excluded about the effectiveness of the campaign, which will fall on municipalities even if they are born out of government.

“Some municipalities do a very good job, others do a very bad job,” he resigned.

An urgent job

The collapse of the Ghazipur Garbage Hill in East New Delhi in 2017 killed two people and pushed several others into a nearby canal, which attracted significant media attention.

But beyond certain pitfalls, trash cans pose an immediate threat to the health of those who live near them.

“When the wind blows or the storm blows, the stench is terrible (…) and the situation becomes more complicated when the monsoon rains come,” explains Vipin Shakya, a 26-year-old who lives a lifetime. At the foot of the Oklah garbage dump in a small cottage town, he says he’s used to it.

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“We’ve been living here for a long time and the garbage is always there,” Shakya laments.