On Senapati Bapat Road, Pune, the sound of tutari, a folk wind instrument culturally synonymous with Maharashtra, goes off abruptly in air. It repeats on the second morning - at around the same time - between 9 am and 9.15 am. The short recording goes off for a few seconds and recedes quickly. I try to wrap my ears and head around the musical mystery. The sound trail ends at a white dumping vehicle and a black garbage bag. "Pune mahanagarpalika" (Pune Municipal Corporation) - words painted on the vehicle's bonnet.
The choice of musical instrument for war against garbage, squalid dumping pits, infections and diseases resulting from them, couldn't possibly be more symbolic than what the white vans collecting garbage for the PMC, use. Inside the vehicle, the driver scribbles a note on a diary. The tutari - once again. A worker steps out, collects a big black garbage bag, returns. The vehicle moves to a nearby lane. Tutari - a reminder of quests political, spiritual and social in Maratha history, is synchronised in symbolism with the PMC's contribution to Pune and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In Pune's continuing quest for cleanliness, the vehicle, popularly known as "ghantagaadi" (the vehicle with a bell meant to announce its presence) has added muscle and wheels to garbage collection and waste management.
Yashwant Sadunki, a resident of Kishkinda Nagar slum, Kothrud, Pune, narrates the crucial role of ghantagaadi in a success story of garbage collection. He says, "it is the backbone of the PMC's work in the cleanliness success story of Kishkinda Nagar slum. It runs the show. The arrival of ghantagaadi means cleanliness and health." The ghantagaadi has become a vehicle of waste collection consciousness of Pune. Suresh Jagtap, Joint Municipal Commissioner, PMC, is working towards making garbage collection sustainable more effective and more efficient. He says, "the sound of tutari is used by all the PMC vehicles meant for garbage collection. It alerts the people. They associate the sound with awareness and cleanliness." The task before PMC in the city's enlarging realm of waste management, is huge. The success of public private partnership in Kishkinda Nagar slum has given the local urban body a template for work in societies and other slums; more determination and some important lessons.
The war cry for cleanliness gained pitch in Kishkinda Nagar slum, one of the 500 slums in Pune, two years ago. The slum's residents, with help from Pune's urban local body and the Pune chapter of SWaCH, a cooperative of waste pickers (started in 2008 in response to a need for a public private partnership for waste management in Pune) have brought a transformation. Suchismita Pai, outreach, SWaCH, said, "There are three stakeholders in the PPP of waste management. Waste generators - households, industry, institutions. Waste pickers or collectors. Urban local bodies like Pune municipal corporation here and the local elected representatives."
In Kishkinda Nagar slum, PMC and SWaCH work in tandem with the residents. Door to door garbage collection is the fulcrum of the cleaning process. The combined effort has shown that a slum can win against garbage, can become cleaner and clean, if the stakeholders follow systematic waste collection and management, consistently with awareness in good measures. It is an ongoing effort. Yashwant adds, "the PMC and SWaCH clean the chamber and the narrow lanes, they pick the garbage, door to door. The lanes and chamber remain clean even during the rainy season. You have been to the higher points in these lanes. You must have seen that they are clean. This is how the lanes are on any other day, throughout out the year now."
Earlier, one of the sore points here was a chronic dumping spot. It has been removed and is now used as a spot for "sorting recyclables."
Swarajya visited Kishkinda Nagar slum on Ambedkar Jayanti, a day observed as an annual festival to mark the birthday celebrations of Dr BR Ambedkar. At the entrance of Kishkinda Nagar slum, residents, mostly men from the locality have gathered to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti. After a few short speeches delivered as a mark of respect to the leader, the men offer floral tribute to the his portrait placed on a temporary dais built outside the temple. Recordings of devotional songs in Marathi, some dedicated to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, are played at the temple and the festivities begin. There is zero tolerance for dirt around the temporary dais. “Jai Bhim,” residents greet each other. The ground is frequently cleaned, and the picture is similar on a road the residents refer to as chamber.
The chamber leads to narrow and steep lanes on both sides. Entrances to many homes open into these lanes. These lanes in Kishkinda Nagar - visibly clean and cleaner, show, that the very essence of a Swachh Bharat lies in places where cleanliness has been scraped out by snatching away space from garbage. Sharada Devi, a resident, said, "earlier, kids had no place to play. The chamber would be overflowing with garbage and it would become worse during the rainy season. The lanes would be worse, too, the drains would get clogged and choked. It was terrible. Our children would fall sick again and again. Garbage collection and cleaning has made a lot of difference. We are much better now."
According to SWaCH, Kishkinda Nagar slum itself has over 1800 homes. What's so striking in this particular slum's story? Change. Awareness. No heaps of garbage. No stray animals. Not a sight of soiled diapers and used sanitary napkins ripped or torn and scattered by stray animals outside homes or in the middle of roads (this outsider is from National Capital Region). Kishkinda Nagar slum sends out a powerful message. "Education" has been redefined here. Change is visible on ground. It has been achieved by the formidable team comprising of slum residents, the PMC and SWaCH. It is a story of persistence. "Kishkinda Nagar is one of our biggest success stories. When municipality and SWaCH work in tandem, it works very well, which is why we have been able to give that coverage and which is why we have been able to remove the chronic spot," Suchismita adds.
The slum residents mention that garbage is picked regularly from homes and chamber and lanes cleaned frequently. Lakshmi Devi, a resident who works as a household helper, hands out a lesson. She said, "there are fewer flies in our slum now. Fewer flies means less diseases. Less diseases means better health and we spend less on medicines. There is a sense of relief in residents here." At the core of change is SWaCH, a cooperative of waste pickers. "Each member (in SWaCH) is a self employed entreprenuer who benefits through the membership of the collective," added Suchismita.
For Kishkinda Nagar slum, SWaCH tapped manpower, the biggest sources of energy and work - the waste pickers. "Waste collectors in the informal economy have been collecting waste and helping the city in their own way for many years. With the Swachh Bharat Mission, the need for better waste management systems was given a boost and there has been a push to expand the door to door services throughout the city. All SWaCH members are share holders in the cooperative. They are self employed and collect waste from 250 to 500 homes generally." As per SWaCH, they handled an estimated total waste of 2,57,000 metric tonnes, wet waste, 1,80,000 metric tonnes and sanitary waste metric 7,700 tonnes, in 2016.
How does PPP work out for all stakeholders? Suchismita explains, "When all these can coordinate and work, it brings several benefits to the system. Waste generators get inexpensive door to door service and cleaner surroundings, less pollution and better health along with tax savings as a similar service provided by urban local bodies would cost a lot more in salaries, fuel etc."
Waste pickers, who pivot the movement, get absorbed into the formal system. "They get recognition and the benefits of belonging to an organisation. Urban local bodies save on taxes as they do not have to employ more sanitation personnel, they save on fuel and logistical, supervisory and adminstration costs. Moreover, they create employment and help in poverty alleviation.
They formalise informal employment and members from marginalised sections of society, empower women and help educate families," she added.
Two years of focus on the removal of waste from Kishkinda Nagar has created a good base for approaching bigger challenges."We have been making concentrated efforts with the PMC to clear out the slums waste on priority." The most important and foremost step among the bold ones was opening doors to garbage collection warriors.
Jayant Bhosekar, PMC assistant commisioner/ward officer, Kothrud, said, "The waste pickers were identified, enlisted under SWaCH, given identity cards, and health insurance. Once enrolled, they initially collected recyclable garbage. Then, gradually, they were given hand carts and gloves etc. They began the work of segregating garbage. The segregated waste is picked up at certain points by a municipal vehicle."
To see change, in Kishkinda Nagar slum, is therapeutic. People backing the movement know the ups and downs. Sanitation inspector Santosh Tatkar, PMC, Kothrud, said, "Pehle kachraa kidhar bhi daalte thhe loag (they used to dump garbage anywhere). Then, there was a chronic garbage dumping point, outside, on the main road. Due to the efforts of PMC, dumping on that point was brought to an end. PMC's collection vehicles pick the garbage regularly."
The public private partnership has been making concentrated efforts to clear out the slum waste on a day to day basis. It is also ensuring that the impact of good work steadily wraps within it, as it moves and progresses, continuity. For this, SWaCH and the PMC not only came up with a system that provided better livelihood to waste collectors, but they have also filled gaps in garbage collection and its management, ensuring better public health. "This entire system reduced the burden on PMC workers," Santosh Tatkar adds.
Initially, stepping up and down the steep and narrow lanes of Kishkinda Nagar, I leave some room for doubt. Garbage heaps and stray animals would, at least once cross my path, I think. Gradually, the story of Kishkinda Nagar - simple, true and real - unfolds. Climbing to the far ends of these lanes, entrance after entrance from the main chamber. Residents have, to a great extent, absorbed well the idea and motive of driving away garbage from their homes and the outside of homes. Homes that are often described, by people more privileged than the ones who live in these slums, as hotbeds of ill health, infections, vermin and stray animals.
The challenges were many. The terrain tough. Picking garbage was an uphill task - literally, too. Covering the slum for collecting garbage required a lot of physical work. "Sometimes, the equipment would get stuck, making the exercise dangerous. Collection and processing of waste required bigger efforts," Santosh Tatkar added. Then, the type of waste generated from slums - wet, to a large extent, gave collection a slow start. According to Tatkar, it initially led to arguments between waste pickers and residents. "People sometimes forget that waste pickers are humans, too. How can poeple expect waste pickers to collect uncovered diapers?" he adds. It required a lot of convincing and awareness on hygiene. Some detailed instructions on wrapping of some waste like diapers and sanitary napkins with newspapers.
Persistence in approaching residents with the message - on awareness on cleanliness, the benefits of waste disposal and segregation of waste became the pivot for this movement. "The way we approach it is through education, which, always, is the first step. We tell them that because of the waste and dirt lying around you tend to fall sick, such surroundings lead to diseases, there are stray animals and insects thriving due to the waste and dirty surroundings, there are flies, there is diarrhoea, there are mosquitoes, there is dengue. Investing in a healthier environment is a better choice. That's the carrot," Suchismita added.
The bins for dumping garbage have been removed. For PMC, working with a single waste collection agency has helped. For SWaCH, working with PMC and its support of equipment, vehicles, reach and expertise in waste management, has helped. How are the waste pickers allocated? According to the number of houses in the slums. "By mandate more than 75 per cent of them are women, because SwaCH was formed with that mandate, but there are some men as well. Not a pair of waste pickers but a couple of waste pickers - a husband and wife would also end up servicing the household. It is always two people who service one place. The household gets coverage. In case someone falls sick or has to go somewhere, there is coverage," Suchismita adds.
What is the stick? "When the municipal corporation people start working with us in earnest, it also means that they have the powers to at least, at the very least, fine you. They can put a penalty. The fine is not always applied, but the fear of penalty, when it comes from authority, works. It is also a way to tell them that the municipality is not going to pick up your kachraa (rubbish) if you do this," she explains.
Every morning, residents of the slum, who are among more than a lakh people reached by SWaCH for door to door collection, hand over garbage from their homes to the waste pickers. Jayant Bhosekar adds, "Awareness, education, reward and penalty, all go into approaching better health and sanitation of slum dwellers and effective door to door collection of garbage. The PMC and SWaCH have worked towards it through interactions, good communication with the slum dwellers and rallies."
What does the waste picker get for this challenging work? According to Suchismita, there are two sources of income for the waste picker. "One is the user fee, which the waste picker gets from the household services he provides in door to door collection, the other is from the recyclables he gathers. In slums, there aren't always recyclables for the waste picker, because the recyclables have already been sold. We get a few recyclables," she adds.
Slum residents pay Rs 35 to Rs 40 per month for door-to-door garbage collection to SWaCH warriors. "The way it works is that there is also a subsidy of Rs 10 that works per household in the slum, directly payable to the waste picker. The municipal corporation gives the subsidy of Rs 10 per household depending on how many houses we cover. The waste picker gets that money," Suchismita adds.
The fee used to pinch some residents, earlier, in Kishkinda Nagar slum. Now, most residents pay it willingly after seeing the good results. "Some residents, who cannot pay every month make sure that the rag pickers get the amount towards the end of the month," Yashwant adds. The model worked. "Now, we are scaling it up, to reach and cover the whole city. It may take a couple of years. Also, we are looking forward to a better result with the ban on plastic," Jayant Bhosekar adds.
Convincing residents to shell out Rs 35 wasn't easy. "There is a lot of reluctance to pay even while it is just a rupee. They feel that they are poor and why should they pay," Suchismita added. SWaCH made work easier by ensuring wages to waste pickers who work in difficult conditions to provide an essential service to people in slums. In slums, lack of awareness, limited means and bigger issues confronting day to day living, push waste management lower in people's priorities. In such a scenario, a rupee per day becomes the object of focus. "Slum residents need to be told the difference between spending a rupee a day on disposal or garbage and around the same cost or higher, on illnesses like diarrhoea, dengue, malaria and other diseases. When they understand the impact of letting garbage collect in and outside homes, the contrast in the use of a rupee - on garbage or on fighting diseases becomes clear and clearer," Jayant Bhosekar added.
In order to make the reach wider and efforts reap better results, PMC and SWaCH focussed on the spotting and removal of chronic points where people would dump garbage, habitually, day after day. In the Kishkinda Nagar slum, too, at the chronic point, the garbage would overflow. PMC, after observing the contributors of garbage to the chronic point, worked out a trail of names and addresses. It led them to homes, convincing and more convincing. Some carrot. Some stick.
The narrow lanes serve as the immediate open playing space to children and as the common breathing space to women between their chores and jobs in their crammed schedule. Conversations and life in all its moods inside the homes filter out of homes, to these lanes. These lanes bear the signs of cleaning consciousness that has been empowered by women.
Initially, results were slow and scanty. The number of buckets received from the entire slum was less than 10, but a beginning was made. However, one of the biggest successes of the work undertaken by PMC and SWaCH they should count in their achievements is that the residents, now, themselves, are making efforts to segregate garbage sent out of homes. "Initially, the non-segregation of waste would lead to a lot of problems. A lot of waste that is sent out of homes in slums is wet waste. The residents have become sensitive and aware," Tatkar added.
At the end of the chamber in Kishkinda Nagar slum, is the beginning of a ground that has served as a dumping site in the past. The ground connects Kishkinda Nagar slum with Sutardhara, "not a recognised slum", tucked on a hill. Rewari Maan, a labourer from Uttar Pradesh, is slowly getting used to the idea of staying here. "I have arrived in Pune recently to work as a labourer. It is clean enough for me to think of working in the city." The picture begins to grey here. Residents use two points to dump garbage. The bins overflow. Its lanes say a different story. After a visit to Kishkinda Nagar slum, the story here is fairly different and discouraging. "We have some access issues there, but things will improve," Jayant Bhosekar added.
PMC would like to make the door-to-door collection, the first crucial step towards waste management, sustainable. SWaCH is strengthening legs. "There are
over 9,000 homes in Janta Vasahat, BhimNagar, Panchashilnagar, Hiraman Mhoze Nagar, at Yerwada ward, Mehatar Vasti at Dholepatil, Vaiduwadi, in Ramtekdi. Ambedkar Vasti, Katraj Vasahat etc," added Suchismita. Expansion, she points out, is ongoing. "There are slums which have 18,000 residents. Change cannot take place overnight. You need to win over people. So, we take smaller portions of the slum, we start work there. And then, slowly, we cover the slum. It is a continuous effort towards covering of slums," she adds.
In Kishkinda Nagar slum, women dust and clean the outsides of their homes, before and after chores like washing clothes and utensils. The effect is rubbing off on kids, who do not throw litter. Residents in Kishkinda Nagar slum have made a choice. Of systematically disposing and removing garbage from homes and surroundings. Sometimes, segregation of garbage begins at home. The outside of the homes receives the same respect and treatment as the inside does. Their story must trickle out - to Pune and other Indian cities.
Perhaps, the sound of tutari blown from the PMC's garbage collection vehicles, which has awakened Kishkinda Nagar slum residents and people living in other parts of Pune, should become louder.
(Pictures: Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)
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