Based on the first large-scale assessments conducted in India covering 9,300 SafaiSathis (waste pickers) in 14 cities, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) India has released a baseline analysis of the socio-economic situation of the SafaiSathis or waste pickers.
There are revealing findings. For example: extremely low health insurance coverage among SafaiSathis; 40% SafaiSathis without a bank account; a large percentage without any access to government programs like Jan Dhan Yojana, and lack of key documents like birth certificates, caste certificates, among others.
The baseline was undertaken as part of the “Utthaan – Rise with Resilience” project under the UNDP Plastic Waste Management Programme. Utthaan is UNDP India’s COVID-19 response enabling SafaiSathisto to access government programs and build more resilient communities.
The baseline study had an equal representation of male and female SafaiSathis and found that the work they undertake is highly informal, which limits income and employment mobility.
Some key findings:
- 6 out of 10 SafaiSathis said they have a bank account.
- 21% of SafaiSathis said they have access to Jan DhanYojana, with an even lower proportion indicating access and use of digital payment methods.
- With the exception of Aadhar cards and voter cards – which over 90% and 60% of SafaiSathis said they own, respectively – all other forms of identification such as birth, income, caste and profession were sorely lacking in the community.
- 50% of SafaiSathi reported owning and using a ration card.
- Health insurance coverage among the SafaiSathis was less than 5%.
- Temporary sheds and rental accommodation were reported as the most common forms of accommodation.
- Over 90% of SafaiSathis reported having a continuous supply of clean water, while 80% had a supply of electricity.
- Access to and use of sanitation facilities was only reported by 60% of SafaiSathis.
- Wood-based cooking fuels were recorded at the same level as cleaner alternatives.
In 2021, UNDP also launched the first-ever Social Welfare Facilitation Center in Goa with the support of the Japanese Embassy to improve access to social protection for SafaiSathis. The Center acts as a crucial bridge between government departments that manage social protection schemes and SafaiSathis.
The report was released by Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog. The launch was joined by Yogita Swaroop, Senior Economic Advisor, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE); Shingo Miyamoto, Minister – Economy & Development, Embassy of Japan; Resident Representative of Shoko Noda, UNDP India; Atul Bagai, Head of Country Office, UNEP; and Prabha Narasimhan Executive Director – Home Care, Hindustan Unilever.