The invisible heroes of Alibaug did their best to transform the dysfunctional economy. mumbai news

MUMBAI: Every day, Shah Mohammad cycles through the lanes of Alibaug, balancing huge sacks with the ease of an acrobat. He stops from time to time to pick up cans of soft drinks, plastic packaging, pieces of entangled metal—a relic of daily life—and pedals, whistling. Their final stop is a courtyard centered around a giant weighing scale similar to a Subodh Gupta establishment. Here, his brother Aish Mohammed separates the material and stacks it neatly, before it is taken to the places where the garbage turns into gold.
Shah Mohammed and his brothers – originally from Siddharthnagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh – are invisible heroes who keep India clean. They are part of a vast and mind-boggling army of garbage collectors and recyclers that traverse areas where the waste footprint is rapidly expanding, without supporting civilian infrastructure to handle it.
“Without these people, the entire countryside would be a huge waste,” says Stalin D of Vanshakti, an environmental NGO that advocates for better waste management. “The contribution of this unorganized sector of waste collectors and recyclers across the country is completely unrecognized. Their returns do not justify the efforts, they need to be part of the solution,” he says. “These people need both space and help from the pollution control board or local authorities.”
For example, in Alibaug, that fiery combination of changing land regulations and increasing tourist traffic has led to a major waste management problem. While the collection and disposal of waste in India is the responsibility of local village governments, much of it is still incinerated, or dumped at random places or into the sea. This is a problem that is being replicated across the country where rural areas are becoming semi-urban at random.
Despite the important service they provide, waste workers like Shah Mohammed must deal with a paradox—on the one hand, cleanliness is worshiped as a virtue, but on the other, the workers on the waste chain are considered invisible and polluting. is. The author encourages contemporary India to redefine its relationship with waste.
Even after the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, there is no meticulous documentation of the number of people working in the waste chain across the country – from collectors, sorters, loaders, transporters and workers in units that decompose plastic into pellets or iron. The melts have to be reused, says environmentalist Rishi Agarwal, who runs the Mumbai Sustainability Centre. “The work they do is important. First, they’re cleaning up the environment. Second, they’re generating an income for themselves and not a burden on the economy. While theirs may be the market reaction, their Much better comes out of work.”
Some of them are affected by the changing waste economy. For example, glass has become far less viable as a recycled product. Instead, broken glass remains a health hazard during sorting. Or, the price of plastic waste fluctuates based on crude oil prices, although those at the bottom do not feel the impact either way. In the waste hierarchy, iron, plastic and paper generate high prices. The main industrial center for plastic recycling is in Vapi, Gujarat.
Meanwhile, if daily waste can be a barometer for changing consumer lifestyles, Shah Mohammed and Aish Mohammed know what people are doing—empty pizza boxes reveal the taste of food; Brown beer bottles tell about drinking habits. “Fifteen years ago, the waste was very different. We didn’t find that much plastic, or thermocol, nor that much construction debris,” says Shah Mohammad, 29, who descended on Alibaug to join his brother-in-law’s business. “I heard That’s how an entire ship once landed here from a foreign land carrying junk.” His anecdotes serve as small pieces in the incredible puzzle of India’s multi-crore waste recycling industry.
Recently a wadi owner disposed of an old rusty bicycle. Shah Mohammad cleaned it, changed the brakes, broke it and sent it to his village for his nephew. “We have learned to fight with life and have very few expectations,” says a father of three children who study in a village school. “If there is one thing I would like, however, it is some government aid for our brother, who has lost his left hand.” Aish Mohammed shows the gudri, or bedcover, sewn from pieces of shabby cloth by his wife Ayesha and other women in the family. The geometric patterns and workmanship are exquisite. “It takes them months to build it,” he says, “that’s how we make our homes more beautiful.”

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