Mumbai, May 28, 2019: 14 year old city girl, Sanjana Runwal, under her NGO – Clean Up Foundation, donates gumboots and raincoats and provides healthy meals to over 200 of the city’s most vulnerable community – the rag pickers. Clean Up’s aim is to improve the living conditions of those who keep the city clean, the garbage cleaners, and rag pickers being prominent. This event was conducted in association with Aasra Welfare Association, an NGO which does a lot of work for betterment of rag pickers.
Littered roads and ineffective solid waste management are probably two of the worst externalities of economic advancement, especially in developing nations like India. Imagine getting up early in the morning each day to go to work: work that involves cleaning the garbage from gutters, sewers, drains, and streets of the city. The downsides of the job: low income, health hazards, short life expectancy and lack of dignity. Add to that widespread substance addiction. Yet, there are people who do this job relentlessly, each day. A broad estimate would put the number of rag pickers in India anywhere between 15 to 40 lakhs. Mumbai itself is estimated to have more than three lakh rag pickers.
As per the data from a sample study by MCGM, 40 percent of these rag pickers have an average per capita income of less than Rs.3500, and approximate 70 percent are illiterate. Their health is a major concern. 94 percent of the rag pickers in this survey were addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs and 43 percent of these were minors. The study found out that 63 percent of the surveyed population are exposed to diseases like TB, Dengue, Malaria, etc.
Sanjana has started an initiative ‘Revolution for Rag Pickers’, directed at improving the lives of rag pickers in the city. In association with BMC ‘H West’ Ward in Bandra, Sanjana’s Clean Up Foundation donated raincoats and gumboots to over 200 rag pickers that will ensure their safety from hazardous material during monsoon. The distribution was done at an event held in Bandra. All rag pickers were also given a good meal on the occasion and going forward, Clean Up will ensure a good meal for them once every month. These meals will be prepared by members of Mahila Udyog Gruh, an initiative where women come together to cook and supply meals. The monthly meal plan will also help these women to generate income for their families. Sanjana intends to widen the area of operations for her activities and wants to carry out many more such activities.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote –‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’, she says, “I want to bring about a positive change in the lives of the rag pickers. They, too, are human beings like us and we should stop turning a blind eye towards them. If they stop doing what they do, our cities will become unlivable. Cringing and covering our noses when we see them will not help anyone. I am trying whatever little I can do to improve their lives and I would request others to help me do this.”
Clean Up has already donated numerous water purifiers to different ward offices of BMC, which have helped hundreds of garbage cleaners get access to clean drinking water.