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Environmental Entrepreneurship Program for Urban Poor Women

Mumbai, economically rich, prosperous and growing is a city of almost 12 million people. Who generate considerable amount of waste (around 7000 tons) every day. Growing affluence increases volume of waste. Workers in the informal economy are an invisible part of the urban landscape providing a variety of the services to ever increasing urban population.  

Sustainable human development is development that not only generates economic growth but distributes its benefits equitably; that regenerates the environment rather than destroying it; that empowers people rather than marginalising them. It gives priority to the poor, enlarging their choices and opportunities and providing for their participation in decisions affecting them. It is development that is pro-poor, pro-nature, pro-jobs and pro-women.”[Future of the United Nations Development Programme: Initiatives for Change. 1994.]  

Waste pickers, though sizeable in numbers, are among the most marginalized and invisible within this category of workers. As per the definition prepared by “SWACHH: Alliance of Wastepickers in India ”, the term "Waste-pickers" and "Waste-pickers organisations" should be included and defined in MSW rules 2000 (Issued by Central pollution Control Board of India) as follows. “Waste pickers are those workers whose livelihood depends on informal collection, segregation and sale of scrap. It does not include poor workers such as domestic workers, watchmen, doorstep waste collectors hired by contractors, municipal workers/ safai karmacharis, all of whom may be supplementing their incomes through sale of scrap. The latter category earns salary/wages while the waste pickers do not.”  

Waste pickers are engaged in various kinds of work like waste picking, segregation, recycling and at the organized level, door to door collection and composting and recycling recovery. The issue of urban poverty is intricately linked with waste. In India lakhs of people find livelihood opportunities in the area of waste. Therefore it is important to understand issues about waste in this context.  

Parisar Vikas:

An Environmental Entrepreneurship Program for Urban Poor Women

Stree Mukti Sanghatana, Women’s Liberation Organisation (SMS) established in 1975 has directed its efforts towards the upliftment of women irrespective of caste class, creed, religion, language & nationality; primarily by creating awareness in the society about women’s issues and the issues related to equality, peace and development. For last 28 years SMS is working among the men & women to achieve equal status in all spheres of life, i.e. political, economic, social cultural & psychological fields. It is an apolitical, autonomous, voluntary organisation.

Since its inception, SMS has made the significant contributions to the women's movement in Maharashtra thorough various activities such as ten Counselling Centres for distressed women, Five Day Care Centres Adolescent Sensitisation Program, Large scale awareness campaigns on issues regarding women in various parts of Maharashtra and India using the medium of a Theatre, poster exhibitions, seminars, talks etc., Publication of book and magazines, Production of audio -video cassettes and CDs. . These efforts have now been recognized and appreciated at both the national and international levels. In June 1999 SMS received the consultative status from UNITED NATIONS (ECOSOC).

SMS started the work for the Parisar Bhagini women of Mumbai in 1998.  The Parisar Vikas programme aims at addressing the problems of rag picking women, engaged in the ‘menial’ tasks of ‘cleaning the waste’ and also the problem of waste management, engulfing the urban existence.  


Studies in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad have effectively documented that,  

a.      Waste picking is a caste and gender based activity.  

b.      All Waste pickers belong to the scheduled castes (Dalits)  

c.      Age group of Waste pickers - 7 to 70 years.  

d.      In most  cities gender division of waste pickers is: women waste pickers – 85%, Men Wastepickers-10% and   
   Children Waste pickers - 5%  

e.      90% of all Waste pickers are the primary breadwinners for their families  

f.       98% of Waste pickers are illiterate with no alternative skills  

g.      Most of waste pickers are from drought-prone areas of Maharashtra and other southern states  

h.      Waste pickers suffer serious health hazards resulting from unhygienic work conditions. Injuries from carelessly thrown    glass and metal pieces, acid bottles, needles and dog and vermin bites are common occupational hazards. Most of   
   them suffer from severe Anemia and occurrence of Tuberculosis, Respiratory diseases and backache are very   

i.       Their day starts at the dawn and extends to more than 10 hours and entails walking 10-12 km.  daily carrying heavy 
   loads of up to 40 kg  

j        Harassment by the police and municipal workers and exploitation by scrap traders and money-lenders is a common 

After analyzing the findings of the survey of 2000 women waste pickers, SMS initiated a meaningful dialogue with waste pickers (Parisar Bhaginis).  Twenty-five years of experience of working for women’s Cause helped SMS to ensure a comprehensive approach towards these problems with proper perspective.  

SMS developed a specialized program for Parisar Vikas

i)                    Survey of 2000 Parisar Bhaginis. Today, almost all of them are members of the organization. With the help of community workers though various awareness, educational and health activities SMS also tries to reach out to their families.

ii)                   Issuing Identity cards, with the endorsement from MCGM, to Parisar Bhaginis.

iii)                 Establishing 200 groups with a group leader. 170 groups out of these have already started working as saving groups. Saving groups have already disbursed Rs. Fifty lakhs for its internal lending up to 31st march 2005.  Federation of these groups is already registered as an independent organisation `Parisar Bhagini Vikas Sangh. (PBVS)’

Thus the program developed by SMS is actually a perfect practical application of most of the Millennium Development Goals stated by the United Nations in 2000.   

I.      Eradication extreme poverty and hunger  

SMS efforts of bringing change into this lot of urban poor lead to another important development. The Urban Poverty Eradication Cell of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has undertaken a number of initiatives and adopted innovative concepts and strategies in the implementation of various components of this program. A novel concept has been adopted in which the 'Waste picker' community has been addressed as a special group as they constitute the 'poorest of the poor' of this city. The concept paper written by CCDO Ms. Jyoti Pandya titled 'People's participation in the critical issue of Solid Waste Management and linkage with U PA program' bore fruit when all components of Suvarna Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana SJSRY were applied in practice to this extremely needy group. Thus started a significant partnership between SJSRY (MCGM), SWM (MCGM) and SMS. Most of the components of Poverty eradication program are being covered under this joint venture.  

Access to resources                                     

  1. Permission for Issuing of Identity cards jointly signed by SMS president and Deputy Chief Engineer, SWM.
  1. House hold Survey of these women for BPL status and their inclusion (100 groups and 1000 women so far) under SJSRY- another 70 groups are in the process. 
  1. Grant of Rs. 10000/- to each group as a running capital to start their micro enterprises- Out of 200 groups 63 groups with 678 women already received revolving fund of Rs.6,78,000/- disbursed under the 'Thrift and Credit Societies' component of S.J.S.R.Y.
  1. Provision of tempo  for collection of dry waste and inclusion of Parisar Bhaginis in such schemes in five wards
  1. Recognition to SMS as the training Institute 
  1. Vocational training of 5 batches  women under SJSRY
  1. Under Infrastructure development of SJSRY, sanction to construct sheds in seven wards for storage of dry waste which will operate on Cooperative basis under the aegis of PBVS (5 such informal sheds are already in use.)
  1. Formation of neighborhood committees
  1. Approval of design submitted by SMS for the composting of wet waste in the pits of the size 5’x 3’x 2’   
  1. Sanction of grant to SMS to construct and maintain two NISARGRUNA PLANTS (Producing Bio gas and manure) at Shatabdi Hospital and Deonar abattoir respectively under the guidance of scientists of BARC for MCGM. Today SMS is maintaining five such plants.

Joint efforts are now being made by designing business proposals such as purchase of tempo, establishment of medicinal plant- nursery, sale of manure etc. to establish bank.

Linkages for self help groups. Urban Development Department of Government of Maharashtra has noted the importance of this partnership and in its G R of May 2004 has recommended adoption of this approach to all other Municipalities in the state.

II.      Universalization of  primary education  

Making pre-primary education available to the children of the Parisar Bhaginis by starting Balwadis (Kindergartens) in the communities with the help of Pratham, an organization working for Universalisation of Primary Education. 300 girls were given special educational assistance with the help of local donors. Almost 80 % of the children of age group 6-14 attend the formal school. SMS is now trying to organize youth in the community and is also trying to give them orientation in further educational opportunities, professional courses, life skills etc. . . .

III.      Improvement in  health, Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

IV.      Reduction in child mortality

V.      Improvement in maternal health  

·     Holding Health camps for the women and children and provision of counseling facility to the needy families

·     Development of special immunization, Anemia detection, cure and prevention program with the help of P.S.M. department of K.E.M. Hospital

·     Starting a Crèche (a day-care centre), for the children of Parisar Bhaginis, in the Community Centre next to the Deonar dumping ground.

·     Special health workers’ Training to community workers with the help of Alert India

·     After sustained efforts waste pickers have been covered as special category under Janashree Vima Yojana and Antyodaya Yojana  

VI.      Gender equality and empowerment Of women  

Social empowerment  

SMS has dedicated itself to the Women’s Cause. It has developed lot of material using various forms over the years such as theater (its famous play Mulagi Zali Ho or Beti Aayi Hai), songs, CDs. Poster exhibitions etc... on various issues pertaining to women and children. All this was extensively used while conducting various awareness programs in the communities, SMS also used the material developed by other organizations like Pratham, Tathapi, Institute of health management, Pachod etc. for this purpose. SMS is also organizing awareness and leadership development camps (36 Sessions) for the group leaders with many inputs such as Equality, Solid waste Management, Health, Importance of education, work culture, P.D.S., Atrocities, Effective parenting etc.

Economic empowerment  

SMS Established two training centres in M-ward (Chembur), for training Parisar Bhaginis in bio composting, vermiculture and gardening. 300 women have been trained in manure and gardening techniques so far. As a result of this 250 women have gained meaningful employment...  As a trainer and facilitator SMS secured work opportunities for Solid Waste Collection and Treatment in major public and private sector housing colonies and office premises viz. Tata Power, T.C.S., R.B.I. Navy, BEST, Pfizer , CIDCO, MCGM, BARC , Somaiya etc.. 250 trained Parisar Bhaginis successfully brought near zero-waste status in these colonies, campuses and also in the small housing complexes spread over 13 wards in Mumbai. In last 2 years work has spread to Navi Mumbai, Kalyan, Dombivili and now in Thane.  

At WSF 2004, PBVS took over the contract of collection and disposal of waste and made a sizeable profit.  

In November 2004 along with SMS experts, Parisar Bhaginis participated in training the staff, workers and residents of IPCL Township in Nagothane (Dist. Raigad). Today IPCL Nagothane is first Petrochemical Township in India achieving near zero waste status.  

SMS as facilitator helped Parisar bhaginis to register six service-cooperatives, 50 women each under the Cooperative act for business entrepreneurship.  

SMS is one of the conveners of the following networks  

  1. Swachha: Alliance of Wastepickers in India  
  2. AWM: Alliance on waste management. (National Alliance of organizations working on waste issues)
  3. MMAF:  Maharashtra Microfinance Action Forum ( Alliance of organizations working with self help (Micro finance) groups) 

VII.      Environmental sustainability  

The approach adopted by SMS in Parisar Vikas is found to be most sustainable as it imparts the beneficiaries with the knowledge and skills, advocates for their rights and helps them to be organized. It combines Economy, Empowerment and Environment. This will help Parisar Bhaginis to have increased bargaining power, better social organization, increased income and self-sufficiency.

To make this model sustainable, SMS Simultaneously developed 5-6 composting models for use with the available space in localities of different Socio-Economic background. SMS also took help of the concept of Advanced Locality Management Groups (Citizens’ groups) encouraged by MCGM Authorities. Many of these local groups gave employment opportunity to trained Parisar Bhaginis in their lanes. In turn Parisar Bhaginis brought near Zero waste situation in these areas. Soon SMS received an opportunity to upscale its activities. SMS received maintenance contract for NIsarga Runa (Biomethanation) plant developed by BARC scientists with capacity of treating 5 tons of biodegradable waste every day. Today SMS is maintaining 3 such plants at Anushakti Nagar. SMS has also constructed two such plants for MCGM and maintaining them. One of the plants has successfully produced electricity from the biogas generated.  

Three factors - poverty, gender inequality and poor ‘quality of life’ - pose major challenges to sustainable urbanisation. If good governance can combine adequate powers, resources and operational capacities with community and partner empowerment, local authorities can take a central role in sustainable urbanisation. Mobilisation of local resources, whether private or public or community-centric, is a major challenge. There is a greater participation of voluntary organizations along with Municipal Corporation in the field Solid waste management now. SMS therefore feels that treatment of waste can become a potential opportunity to increase the people’s participation in the whole process and make them aware of their own responsibilities. This initiative can also convert the wet waste into Green Gold and make a considerable difference in the environment. Use of such manure or soil in the cities will stop the relentless exploitation of hills and river basins in the rural area. It will also create better working conditions for the Municipal conservancy workers who struggle day and night to keep the cities clean. It will bring the necessary attitudinal change in the people, which will help in the gradual acceptance of the Parisar Bhaginis by the society as responsible partners of the environmental entrepreneurship program.

VII.      Global partnership for development

SMS secured funds from War on Want, a UK-based organization for the purpose of carrying out the above program


Parisar Vikas is proving to be a learning experience for all the workers and the SMS as an organization. Help from private and public sector is coming in the form of providing solid waste management contracts from residential colonies.

“There is a direct, although non-proportional relationship between population growth and waste generation. According to TERI calculations the population growth 1981-1991 was from 8.2 million to 12.3 million, a growth of about 49%. At the same time, the municipal solid waste (MSW) generated increased from 3,200 tonnes / day to 5,355 tonnes / day, an increase of around 67%. Thus the growth in MSW has clearly outpaced population growth, which is likely to happen in other places as well.” (Up scaling people’s participation in urban solid waste management Pub. by Toxics Link, New Delhi

Proper function of solid waste management needs involvement of people at every stage. People are not informed on what this solid waste is where it is taken and what happens to it afterwards. The Municipalities in any of the developing countries do not do any recycling recovery on their own. They still view solid waste management from the conservative (traditional) perspective of waste collection, transport and disposal. This needs to be changed to include resource conservation and recycling and get reflected in the solid waste management rules by giving due importance to the formal and informal players in the same. Contribution of waste pickers was not recognised even in the MSW Rules 2000.Their presence needs to be acknowledged, recognized and strengthened in multiple ways so that there is convergence between the livelihood protection and up gradation needs of waste pickers (poverty alleviation) and the statutory obligations of municipalities in respect of management of urban solid waste Poverty Alleviation Program. For developing countries recycling of waste is the most economically viable option available both in terms of employment generation for the urban poor with no skills and investment. Indirectly this also preserves the natural resources going down the drains. Some local governments have taken initiative to burn waste through incineration or gasification for insignificant quantity of electricity generation with astronomical cost and dangerous environmental impacts, which will take away the livelihoods of lakhs of urban poor. In their haste to comply with the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000, Urban Local Bodies in certain cities have contracted out door to door collection to private contractors displacing and further marginalizing waste pickers who can no longer access waste.  The negative fall out is already seen in Nashik (1000), Nerul, Virar, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Nagpur (2000); Surat (2000) and Ahmedabad in Gujarat . The belief of municipal administrators and citizens that NGOs are small scale, inefficient unprofessional, and unaccountable and therefore incapable of providing such services has little basis in fact.  The lack of cooperation, vested interest in waste collection and transportation, lack of coordination and accountability at municipal levels despite their infrastructure and manpower discourages voluntary organizations to upscale their efforts. NGO initiatives and arrangements that do not fit in their conventional contractual framework.  

The Significant Contribution of waste pickers to the city is  

Reduction in municipal waste handling and transport costs 

Supply of raw material to recycling factories
·         Saving space at dumping ground
·         Resource recovery in form of valuable compost 
·         Conservation of environment  

SMS therefore feels that the Municipal Authorities should issue identity cards to Wastepickers authorizing them and granting them permission to collect scrap for recycling. The BPL survey to be conducted should take special note of waste pickers under BPL.  While out sourcing door to door collection of waste even private contractors, should be asked to employ waste pickers on first priority basis. This should be written into the contract between municipality and Contractor. Wastepickers’ organizations should be encouraged, promoted and given preference by municipalities when outsourcing door to door collection of waste as mandated by the MSW rules 2000.  

With the full cooperation of IPCL Authorities SMS could achieve 90% zero waste situation in IPCL- Nagothane Residential colony and Factory campus. However due to lack of cooperation by Municipal authorities could not complete B.C.P.T. funded project of Area Adoption in Chembur. SMS also participated in the study of B ward undertaken MEDC which shows that first step for decentralisation of waste management is the proper dedicated services to collect the segregated waste of hotels and Markets. This waste then can be sent preferably for Bio methanation in Nisarga Runa Plant and or Bio composting. Second step can be tackling of the waste generated by Public and Private sector residential complexes and their disposal then and there. Separate collection and scientific disposal of Debris (Brick making) and Medical waste (Hydrolysis) can take care of inert material and health hazards. The third step should be providing area wise sheds for dry waste, Encouragement and incentives to citizens for segregation at source and composting and public education can transfer the face of Waste management in Mumbai. In Pune, PMC has taken a policy decision to incorporate waste pickers in house to house collection. It has also warned citizens about Corporation’s non ability to collect dry waste. Public- private partnership of this kind can definitely benefit Municipal Corporations and the environment.  

Reduce, Recycle and Reuse is the slogan for waste Management R of Responsibility need to be added to this slogan. Because that sustainable waste management requires reducing the waste and controlling the products that do not create undesirable waste. All over the world and in Europe EPR (Extended Producers’ Responsibility) is fundamental to the waste policy, while we in India have not looked at this.  Manufacturers should be required by law to create Eco-friendly packaging and put proper instructions on the product as to how best to dispose them in an Eco-friendly way. For example, sanitary napkins-which are otherwise biodegradable -should not be using plastic shields and have clear instructions as to how they can be disposed in the paper bags only. Similarly Municipal Corporations should issue clear guidelines to the citizens or industries when they are undertaking the interior designing or civil Work. Recently SMS with help of Tetra Pak has successfully completed pilot project of collection and storage of 6 tons of Tetra Pak, which is multi layered and therefore otherwise would have gone to dumping ground and stayed there.  

The main constraints faced by SMS are: 
Management and organizational skills
·         Capital and financial management skills
·         Technological and design inputs for suitable equipment.
·         Interface between voluntary approach and professionalism
·         Improvement of productivity, reduction of health hazards
·         Marketing and logistic support.

TheExperience of Parisar Vikas, the initiative of involving Waste Pickers in the mainstream of Solid Waste Management system of MCGM, is a lesson on managing such challenges. Above all, it highlights the reality that women from marginalize groups need not be passive victims of poverty and human rights violations; they can successfully participate in the struggle to survive, to gain control over economic, social and political resources and lead a life of dignity.  

Jyoti Mhapsekar 
Stree Mukti Sanghatana, 
31, Shramik, L.T.V. road no.3, Dadar, Mumbai 400014. 

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner