V. Kalyan Shankar: Can Informal Waste Pickers have a Legal Right to Waste? The Limits of Policy and Law in Social Justice

Can Informal Waste Pickers have a Legal Right to Waste? The Limits of Policy and Law in Social Justice

V. Kalyan Shankar

Across the multiple stakeholders in urban household waste in India, how does a ‘right to waste’ get carried forward? Waste belongs to households and then to the Municipal body once it enters the public system of collection/disposal. What does this mean for large populations of informal waste pickers, operating in the interstices and carving their livelihoods by retrieving recyclables? Despite their numbers and importance in waste recycling, waste pickers lack a ‘right to waste’ making them vulnerable to abuse and harassment.
Several policy documents in India have envisaged a role for waste pickers in urban waste management. However, they fail to provide for precise mechanisms of integrating them. In this project, Shankar is documenting the counter-narrative of SWaCH, India’s first wholly owned co-operative of self-employed waste pickers. In October 2008, SWaCH entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for door-to-door collection of household waste. The arrangement legitimised a ‘right to waste’ for waste pickers by allowing them to access waste directly from households instead of public bins/landfills. The SWaCH case can provide for a practical understanding of the challenges in contractually integrating waste pickers into urban solid waste management.

V. Kalyan Shankar completed his PhD at the Department of Economics, University of Pune (India). He was a Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow (2015-16) at the India China Institute, The New School. He co-edited the volume Prostitution and Beyond published by SAGE (2008) and his research work has been published in Economic and Political Weekly, Higher Education and the IDS Working Paper series. He is currently associated as a researcher with Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a trade union of waste pickers based in Pune (India).

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