Wake Up Clean Up: Talking waste with Pourakarmikas

Pourakarmikas should be recognized as important stakeholders and voices in the waste management ecosystem


On a hot Wednesday afternoon, 40 pourakarmikas sat in an air-conditioned auditorium, watching a PowerPoint presentation about waste management. This session was organized as part of the Wake up Clean up Waste Management Expo being held at Freedom Park this week. This was probably a rare opportunity for these workers, whose daily jobs involve toiling in the sun, sweeping Bengaluru’s streets and collecting garbage from its homes.

As the pourakarmika’s enjoyed a brief break from the sun, Nalini Shekar, founder Hasiru Dala and Ramakanth, member of the Solid Waste Management Roundtable, who led the session, directed questions at them ‘What are the different types of waste? What do you collect every day?’ Three young boys replied enthusiastically, “hasi kasa (green waste)’, ‘vana kasa’ (dry waste), paper, milk packets madam”. A woman quickly corrected him ‘paper is also vana kasa only’. In the back and forth between the session leaders and the pourakarmikas, it became clear that the city’s conservancy workers know far more about waste than the average Bangalorean. After all, it is their job to deal with it every day.

Stroll along at 8:30 am along most Bangalore streets, and one can see them at work, collecting and sorting garbage. Look carefully, and one can see that they always separate milk packets, thick plastics, cardboard and glass, and sell these items to local scrap dealers. Pourakarmikas have long known that some materials have value and should be recycled. This session was an opportunity to bring them abreast with the BBMPs regulations on segregation and remind them of their critical role in the proper functioning of waste management systems.

During the session, Nalini showed the assembled audience different types of dry wastes like Tetrapaks, bottles and Kurkure packets etc. and asked them how they currently deal with these materials. While some are stored carefully and sold, others are dumped or burnt. She tells them that going forward, all dry waste should be brought to the dry waste collection centers that will be set up in each ward (some are already operational, including the one in Freedom Park which is operated by Gayathri, a Scrap Dealer).

After the session, the pourakarmikas were taken to see a live demo of segregation at source. Ramakanth explained that if a household hands over unsegregated garbage to them, they should immediately show the residents how to segregate properly. If they do not comply even after a few warnings, he asked them to report the non-compliant households to their supervisors and to the Health Inspectors in charge. The pourakarmikas responded saying that very few residents speak or even make eye contact with them. ‘They don’t take us seriously’, one woman says.

On the other hand, many of Bangalore’s citizens blame the pourakarmikas for the poor implementation of the segregation mandate. As one frustrated man tells me ‘ I started segregating my waste immediately after the BBMP mandated it, but the pourakarmika who comes to my house mixes it right in front of my eyes. Therefore I got disheartened and stopped’. I tell one of the woman pourakarmikas this, and she defends her brethren ‘I collect waste from 500 homes every day. I am given only two bins. Very few houses segregate, so I have to store mixed garbage in the bins. So even if some houses give me separate garbage, I am forced to mix it’.

Responsible citizens should understand how the waste collection and process works beyond their doorstep, and respect the skills and labour of the pourakarmika, who works in less than enviable condition to keep the city clean. Many of the contract pourakarmikas are paid less than a minimum wage and have no job security (the city has about 3500 permanent conservancy workers, and the rest are hired by contractors on a temporary basis). Pourakarmikas should be recognized as important stakeholders and voices in the waste management ecosystem, and empowered to contribute their on-the-ground knowledge and expertise. Recent developments where the BBMP has decided to hire more permanent pourakarmikas and reduce dependence on contract labor could improve the lot of the pourakarmikas, and potentially enable them to become responsible and responsive partners in the creation of a better Bangalore.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Manisha Anantharaman is a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, but spends most of her time following garbage and bicycles in Bangalore. Her research looks at middle class environmental politics in the city, with a focus on waste management and transportation. In a past life she used to study plants and microbes, and occasionally longs for those simpler days. more

   FOLLOW US

   SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
  Top Stories on TA






  Top Stories in LIFESTYLE






   Get stories like this in your inbox

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Manisha Anantharaman is a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, but spends most of her time following garbage and bicycles in Bangalore. Her research looks at middle class environmental politics in the city, with a focus on waste management and transportation. In a past life she used to study plants and microbes, and occasionally longs for those simpler days. more

Discuss this article on Facebook