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Rag-pickers of Goa – A disappearing breed ?

Goa has been visited by many types of visitors. Among them are the rag-pickers who come to the state to provide a service unlike any other. They clean out the area of its waste while making a profit. Many questions have been raised as to whether they should be allowed to continue to operate. Given that a state of the art facility has recently been unveiled recently in Saligao. And many areas have a agency handling their garbage management.

Who are these rag-pickers ?

Well, they are mostly migrants from other states. They usually live in shanty towns, slums or even the streets. Rag-pickers make their living by collecting waste material that is eventually sold to a scrap dealer of the locality. Some of them are permanent residents of Goa while some arrive here seasonally. Usually after the rainy season is over.

Services of a rag-picker

Ragpickers have been operating in Goa for decades. Since the use of plastic has gone up, a lot of used plastic waste is generated. Due to improper means of disposing plastic waste materials it ends up strewn across the locality. This is then picked up by the ragpickers who collect them to be sold to a scrap dealer. The waste is eventually re-cycled.

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  • They collect waste such as:
  • Used plastic bottles
  • Waste plastic material (Buckets, vehicle fiber, plates etc)
  • Broken toys
  • Different types of metals
  • Medical waste (E.g. used injections and syringes)

Criticism

Although rag pickers help in keeping the environment clean there have been a few cases of theft lodged against them. Some of them were found to be not credible but there were some genuine cases as well. Leaving metal objects or plastic goods un-monitored around the house becomes impossible if ragpickers frequent the area. In the past there have been cases of theft by rag pickers leaving even the innocent ones under suspicion.

Current situation

It is becoming difficult for the rag-pickers to etch out a living in Goa. Primarily because the government agencies or municipal bodies have taken up the responsibility to collect the garbage. Contracts have been awarded to various agencies to collect and manage waste in different areas. Leaving very little for these rag-pickers to scavenge upon. Very few choose to operate from these areas while others have moved to other areas in search of greener pastures.

Some of them are teaming up and organizing themselves in self help groups. One case was found in Goa. ‘Chul-Chul‘ a self help group comprising of rag-pickers had even sent a proposal to the Margao Municipal Council (MMC) to collect and segregate the waste in 2014. It was backed by a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) ‘stepping stone.’

Recognizing the importance of the rag-pickers. In April this year Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had declared to organise and register them. The rules for solid waste management were being revised.  He also mentioned that government would provide healthcare to rag-pickers.

“Every year 62 million tons solid waste is produced in India of which only 12 million tons is treated,” the minister was quoted in a report of the same event.

Rag-pickers have been providing invaluable service for decades while risking their life. A few incidents of theft can’t be used to pass judgment upon them. Organizing and registering them will deter them from committing any sort of crime. Harassment innocent ones should be avoided.

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