Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  

Beneath The Surface
Pro-poor growth and pro-growth poor

In common parleys, disconcertingly though, the poor are seen to survive with the support of the society. They are destined for doles from exchequer or relief from the rich segment of the society. That the poor could contribute to the growth in different ways and thus could turn out to be an asset for the society is frequently echoed but, perhaps, rarely researched. Just think of the pickers and collectors of wastes in Dhaka city. Their socio economic profile is hardly known to us nor do we attempt to do it. As if they are destined to be pickers. But a thoughtful investigation into the process of marketing of wastes from different corners of the city could reveal that the poor are in fact contributing to not only growth but also in keeping the city clean.

The paper on which I shall heavily draw to drive home the point is titled: "Waste Pickers and Collectors in Delhi: Poverty and Environment in an Urban Informal Sector". Yujiro Hayami, A.K. Dikshit and S.N. Mishra Peeped deep into the poor-growth linkages through a pilot study based on multiple-short surveys. The first thing to note is that pickers and collectors of wastes captured the concerns as far as contribution to growth and cleanliness is concerned. Secondly, the authors put forth some policy prescriptions that need to be considered to make the poor contribute to growth.

Profile of the poor
In north-east New Delhi, mostly the migrants from rural areas of other states are engaged in waste picking and collection -- the bottom points in the system of recycling wastes. It shows that waste collection is a relatively easy occupation for the new migrants from rural areas. Of course, it is much easier to start picking than to start collection as the latter requires some capital and skill. Majority of the pickers are from faraway states like Bihar and West Bengal while the majority of the collectors come from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Both pickers and collectors, by 80 to 90 per cent, are illiterate and are equally distributed between Hindus and Muslims. Age composition shows that majority of them are adult males (18 years plus) with an average family size of more than five. This contrasts with that in evidence in Manila, Kathmundu (and possibly Dhaka) where waste picking is done mostly by females and children. The large family size could be attributed to the facts that collectors are sons of migrants and living with parents.

Pickers are new migrants and accompany wives and children. However, small differences between these groups are found in terms of housing conditions. Pickers' houses are mainly temporary and made of mud, brick and bamboos while collectors live in permanent pucca houses. Another difference draws attention. The majority of pickers rely solely on their own backs but some of them tend to use rickshaw carts to carry the goods in bulks. Collectors regularly use rickshaw carts. The mode of transport differs due to the loads of wastes. Quite obviously, collectors call around corners and hence need carts. The pickers point at piles in a particular place.

Pickers' penny
The average earning of pickers per day is estimated to be Rs.59 which is 40 per cent lower than the minimum wage (Rs.93) per day for casual labourers for municipal works. For collectors, the earning stands at around Rs.118 which is 25 per cent higher than the minimum wage set by the municipality. The authors note that pickers in Delhi are located at the bottom of the income ladder in urban informal sector and their standard of living is pitifully pale. Yet they are happy to say that their earnings in Delhi were twice as high as their earnings in Calcutta. Even taking into account of the cost of living index, the pickers could be in consolation when compared with a living in far flung rural areas. What is, however, hyping is the fact that their poverty is transitory as opportunities are denied to move up the scale as collectors. Unless they move out to some other lucrative options, and be on the heels of lack of skill and knowledge, the chances of coming out of chronic poverty seems bleak.

Sordid segmentation
Here the authors point at social segmentation. The labour markets for pickers and collectors are clearly segmented by ethnicity. As noted before, most collectors come from Uttar Pradesh (UP), whereas pickers pave their ways from remote eastern regions. The old migrants seemingly drive out the new ones as far as higher-status positions are concerned. Early settlers from UP to north-east Delhi occupied lucrative positions in waste recycling --from collectors to wholesalers. Under such a condition, it is not difficult for a newcomer from UP to jump to the position of collector as she is being briefed by the fellow UP settlers. She gets apprenticeship on how to get garbage from housewives and businessmen. Then after few months, she enters into the job of collector under the regular-supplier contact with dealers. "According to this contract, the dealer lends a rickshaw cart free of charge and gives a cash advance of about Rs.500 to the collector. The dealer also advances emergency-relief credits in the event of the collector's sickness and accident. For the benefits, the collector is obliged to sell all her collections to the dealer at about 5 per cent lower than the market price."

The relationship also works as brake on collector's moral hazard in breaching contract. The point of being collectors directly is eased by the community relationships among UP migrants. The migrants from other states are denied the access and hence have to live with chronic poverty. Besides, the occupational ladder is open to collectors for ascending to dealers and, further to wholesalers. The mobility upwards demands a lot of money to the tune of no less than Rs.25,000. All these facilities are prevalent among UP communities.

Pro-growth poor
Yujiro Hayami et al note that despite low social status, waste collection and distribution activities are making important contribution to economic wellbeing in the society. First, these generate private incomes to migrants from rural areas, which are considerably higher than the earnings at home in rural areas. Second, their activities increase private incomes of waste producers such as households and informal business establishments. Third, they reduce public costs of disposing wastes for the conservation of city's environment. "If their operations were absent, the waste collected by them would have been thrown away into parks and streets beyond the capacity of the public garbage dumps." The social value added from waste marketing activities, in the period of the survey, in the city of Delhi is estimated to be Rs.3,587 million (US$ 74 million). Of the total sum, about half was internalised by the traders as their private income, and the rest was externalised to the income of the waste producers and the budget saving of the city administration.

Police and poor
Improvement in sanitary conditions in slums and provisions for basic utilities such as pure drinking water, electricity, sewage disposal system could draw attention. That would reduce day-losses due to sickness. Pickers could be trained with simple processing activities pertaining to wastes through public support programmes. The last but not the least is "stopping policemen's extortion and public dump caretakers' money demands for picking in their "territories"". By the pickers, this was rated as more important than supply of public health and education services!

Abdul Bayes is a Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.