Reading Through the History of Waste Management to Trace Inclusion of Wastepickers in Bengaluru

Notes from Nayandahalli  Daastan-e-Nayandahalli : Episode 2

Anselm Rosario is a known name. Story of waste management, wastepickers’ welfare is incomplete without him. His biographical sketch is an important chapter in the history of informal labor mobilization. He started working on waste and wastepickers at a time when the cities of developing countries were opening their eyes to modernity. As a part of Notes from Nayandahalli series we are presenting the story of Anselm Rosario.

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In conversation with Anslem Rosario

Anslem Rosario completed his graduation studies from St. Joseph College affiliated to Bangalore University in the early 70’s and enrolled for a certificate program in hotel management. After several years in the hotel industry, Anslem left to seek true meaning of spirituality and was initiated in the Transcendental Meditation technique(TM) in seventies by His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of TM movement.  After completion of the course, he graduated as a teacher of Transcendental Meditation and worked as a full timer and joined various campaigns of TM movement in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka and Goa and during that time taught more than 5000 people in TM. He also completed an Advanced Training Course at Shankaracharya Nagar, Rishikesh, before returning to Bangalore.

In the early 1980s, he worked as development officer for the All India Catholic Union in Karnataka and Goa, and moved on to work on urban poor issues. Observing the most runaway or abandoned street children took to waste-picking as a means to survive, he founded theRagpickers Education and Development Scheme in 1985. The scheme had several components including a night shelter, which was constructed at Scared Hearts Church, also included washing facilities, food and access to basic medical care; a Fair Price Shop that respected the children’s need economic independence and purchased the materials collected by the children at market rate.  This was followed with a new Street Contact Education Programs to reach out to children involved in waste-picking. In 1987, he moved to set-up Mythri Sarva Seva Samithi, as he wanted a secular institution. In 1989, through the organization he started collecting waste directly from homes, to ensure that children are free to study in the mornings. Separate collection of dry and wet waste ensured. The program also sought to legitimize informal waste workers contribution and pioneered the integration of waste-pickers in the city’s solid Waste Management. He is the recipient of “Ashoka Fellowship” (1989) from Ashoka Innovators for the Public, Arlington, Virgina, USA .He received the “Public Relations Award 1993 for Environment” for his significant contribution to the creation of cleaner urban habitat by Public Relation Society of India, Bangalore Chapter. He also received the “Environment Award for 1995”, by the Karnataka Pollution Control Board, Government of Karnataka.

In an interview to Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz, Anslem talks about waste and waste management, his personal experiences on decentralization of waste management, the markets for waste and the need for integration of waste-pickers. Edited excerpt:

Mr. Rosario, tell us something about yourself and how you went into this association with waste-pickers

I graduated in Science and then enrolled for a program in Hotel Management. In the course I am came across an introduction to yoga and that was my first introduction to Indian Spirituality. That was the time, when most young people were looking for something meaningful, many found it in drugs, but we were looking for the actual stuff. We were into music and whatever was happening around at that time all. This was fascinating for me. I gave my course and started learning yoga and started looking for gurus who would give me that kind of knowledge. It was a long search. Then I went and joined Transcendental Meditation technique(TM) by His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of TM movement. I was trained as teacher and I spent 8 years in the organization, travelling all over India teaching meditation.  When I came back to Bangalore, I felt that spirituality is ok, but we need to do something real. My work started early 80s; I joined some groups, working with workers in City Markets, who carried the sacks. I would go every weekend. I felt there was something that I need to do. That’s when I looked at waste-pickers, popularly called rag pickers. We started interacting with them and gradually the scenario changed, as by then plastics came in. While the males went into sorting, the women and children went for collection of waste. Initially I taught the children were all orphans, later we discovered that everybody had families. They were second or third generation migrants from different parts of the state. In 84-85, I thought I should do something for the kids, and not a charity approach, but something more with a developmental approach.

The life was around junk shops or scrap shops and then we started Ragpickers Education and Development Scheme in 1985 in Sacred Heart’s Church, we really had to negotiate with the church for a place. And we put up a shelter from the bricks, of a demolished building. It wasn’t an orphanage, rather a sleeping space for children. In the nights they would sleep and disappear in the mornings. That’s when I started realizing where they were going, to pick up waste material. The shelter ran for two three years. And couple of things happened here we realized that every kid we rehabilitated or sending them home, ten were coming on to the street, we realized that we needed a comprehensive approach,  so we could not go beyond 40-50 kids It was also becoming difficult, as we had to spend the night them.  Reflecting on this, we decided we need to move towards a secular approach and that’s when we started the Mythri Sarva Seva Samithi in 1987. At this point in time, I got curious about waste and started to ask questions on waste, whose responsibility, what is happening to waste. At that’s when we got to know about Bangalore City Corporation (BCC), as it was called then. They were spending about 6 crores, huge amount even at that time, though waste was not so visible as such. For us the interest was if kids could pick up dry waste from household and wet waste could be composted near the point of generation, they can earn a little and also study in the available time.

I don’t remember the dates properly but late eighties, early 90s we launched this project in 300 households in Jayanagar, door-to-door collection, and in the park that was given to us after two years of negotiation for composting. For composting we took the help of professors from University of Agricultural Sciences. Lot of experiments went on. Infact the first time we introduced worms into the compost pits, their bodies were bloated up because of the heat. In another incident, when we were advised to put water into the pit, the entire thing started smelling and people complained. So it took a lot of experiments in stabilizing this. In 1989-90, our program was picked by BBC “Earth File” and started airing these capsules and many people across started calling me. That was the starting point of door-to-door collection, segregation of source and to a large extent in that I can say Bangalore was the pioneer in integration of waste pickers, resident and community based approach to integration of waste-pickers.

Almitra Patel got involved in 1990-91, we were part of Swambina and Almitra took it to another level- national level. For us the challenge was how to promote decentralized approach at community level. Infact, we already had KCDC in 1986, which did not work for more than six months.

This is my brief background and later in 2003 many like-minded groups came up in Bangalore. At that time I was experimenting with closed system called Land Lab in Mahadevpura. In 2008, I got involved with Waste Netherlands, which gave me exposure across 18 different countries. At one point in time, I was the Chairperson directing integrated sustainable solid waste management.

Can you trace the whole journey of plastics and how it came into the picture? Also, can you elaborate on the pockets of plastic recycling areas that were present in Bangalore?

In eighties, it was mostly carry bags, we did not get much of PET bottles or shampoo bottles but there were also HDP made up buckets and other things which were quiet rare. We still had aluminum and iron buckets. In 1985-86, plastic carry bags came in. That was easy to pick, but money was not much. It was visible. They (wastepickers) picked up the waste and sold it to the junk/scrap shops.  Further it was consolidated and taken to Jolly Mollah. That much we knew.

The PET bottles were a nuisance in the 1996-97 and somebody gave us an idea about PET bottle and its usage. All we knew it was going to China but we did not have the details. So three of us went to Madras (Chennai) and then we went to this company called Futura. They were making yarn out of it, after melting it. They were making jackets and other things. We tied up with the company. PET Bottles were sold at Rs. 4-5/- but the company offered us Rs. 16/- on the condition that the PET bottles should not smashed as then the sheet would have bubbles and they will not be able make yarns. I remember tying up with another scrap dealer in Kengri and we sent lorry loads of PET bottles and that’s when the PET bottles (recycling) picked up. Other things like HDP, buckets always had market. And all of them were sold based on weight. We knew this particular material was coming out, but we did not get into it, as our preoccupations were based on the community, livelihood.

Were there any legal issues in the transportation of these pet bottles?

Not really. Once it reached Chennai, it was taken care of, by the person in charge there. We were just the suppliers.

At that time how many waste-pickers were there in the city? Where were the scrap markets? Who were the aggregators?

There were pockets of waste pickers in JC road, Rajarajeshwarinagar, , Bagallur, Majestic near city market. The junk shops or small scale dealers then took it to Jolly Mollah. Jolly Molla was an aggregator.

What was happening around Nayandahalli?

It was a recycling area. I was not aware about it in the 80s, as I was not conscious. But in the 90s it was definitely there.

What kinds of materials were being recycled in the eighties?

Paper, Glass, Metals, Tins, Plastic carry bags were the main materials. We did not really pay attention to the waste streams.

What was the ethnography of waste pickers?

There were predominantly Tamilians and Muslims, very few Kannadigas and Telugu speaking people were into waste-picking.

Muslims are traditional traders, so they will get into any trading materials. But waste-picking was Tamilian forte, all over be it in Bombay or Delhi. Slowly the Bengalis came in.

Was there any social security for waste-pickers?

Parallel to our work on the waste side, we have been advocating for social security and education for a long time. And the night shelter was one of the approaches that we used for advocacy. In fact, UNICEF was impressed by our work and offered to publicize our program by organizing local conferences because they wanted to try a different approach than just setting up orphanages. We started a National Network for Street Children. Locally in Bangalore we started forum but we stopped working due to lack of funds.  The first program for child rights was done by us, and was later taken over by the child rights trust. So, I moved back to my waste picker’s welfare business.

Were there similar approaches like the Center for Environment Education’s (CEE) initiative on decentralized waste management across the country? Why did these initiatives die?

Yes, I have mentioned the BBC capsule on Earth File, had motivated many people to start similar initiatives. Infact, there were people like Mayusha in Gujarat who were way ahead, due to the networks with the bureaucracy. In fact Shyamala Mani from CEE was involved with us in Jayanagar at the beginning stages. CEE came around in and had an independent way of doing. In fact there many other groups like Katyayani’s program, SHORE, resident welfare associations. There was a BDA commissioner who was very interested in decentralized waste management.

It was basically MSSS, Sahaas, Samarthanam and CEE working on waste. And CIVIC had some program going on. There were more than 40 such community/resident groups.  All these groups flourished till 1995-96 and after that the then CM, decided to launch new scheme called “Swacha Bangalore”, or something like that. In our approach, residents had to pay a nominal amount. Most groups working on decentralized model had small communities that they catered to – (numbering) about 500. The highest was rise with 1000 households. When this scheme was launched, the message that went out was “residents don’t need to pay”, and that killed these initiatives that were voluntarily.

So we have come full circle!

Infact even that time, there was a demand for places like the Dry Waste Collection Center. The officials did not want to cooperate. With bureaucracy changing, we had to start all over again, as they did not want to put in place any systems for sustainability

Going back to Jolly Mollah and Nayandahalli, you know that the recyclers in Nayandahalli have been given eviction notices… Were there similar problems in the past?

No! There were no such problems. They have had a peaceful existence of over 30-40 years. But the volumes have increased dramatically. If you look at the growth of the city, the volumes were much lower those days.  The whole boom started in 2000. At that time Kengeri was the end of the city. To go there we had to go the edge of Nayandahalli. There was small bus stand there, and now the place has changed. With the growth of the city and the traditional recycling places get pushed out. There is need for advocacy for recycling places. We all know the advantages of recycling. Recycling and conservation and are all part of Indian psyche, rather than the consumer culture. As the city grows, traditional recycling areas get pushed out.

Looking back, one segment was the door-to-door collection which had recycling and landfill, on the other hand, there were also Waste to Energy plants that came around? What kind of conversations took place? How were they functioning? What kind of propaganda was put in place to share the information of these waste energy plants and were the cities aware of this? Were there any resistance?

At that time, KCDC (Karnataka Compost Development Corporation) was functioning. Srinivas Gayathri came up about 10-12years back. Mandur existed as a dump site for a long time. The whole idea of segregation was not fully appreciated, then and now. There were many attempts for many types of such plants to come in. But before the Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2000 came in there was a network and we knew about Waste to Energy and Delhi was already facing severe problems with Dimapur.

More than WTE, pelletisation was another important aspect… Across India I don’t think any such plant really functioned in a large scale. There was one person in Madiwala, but he also needed two acres of land, and eventually shut shop. It was basically the conversion of waste into pellets, which made it easy for recycling.

When did e- waste come about? Tell us more about it in connection with Nayandahalli. The only literature about Nayandahalli is some random articles about e-waste and Nayandahalli Also were there any children involved?

E -waste came in Bangalore during the boom of 2000. Sahaas and CEE were working on E-Waste. I was not actively involved. I remember many articles coming up on this.

HAWA (Hazardous waste) was one group that did some training programs.

I don’t think Nayandahalli was much involved, it was happening in pockets.  It was mainly in the City Market area. The Sunday Market was the most famous; you had a lot of vendors selling things that were not easily available.

Has there been a conscious shift of traders by material from Jolly Mollah to Nayandahalli, for instance the plastic traders?

 I haven’t observed this trend, but if you notice the distance between Jolly Mollah and Mysore road is hardly anything. Instead of giving it to Jolly Mollah, it made sense to give it to the factories, for higher prices. And that’s why I think the factories came to be there. This is my gut feeling.

I do remember the Chamrajpet road had a lot of fabricators, like extrusion machines, shredders and also a lot of household level beads making. But now I don’t see them

Was the shifting of this business, an internal shift, or municipal push?

 All this was an internal shift. There was no municipal pressure to relocate. But there have been traditional places in Bangalore that have been moved out, like the old city

Were there any areas marked out as Industrial Area?

Yes, if you look at it Rajajinagar, West of Chord Road were declared as Industrial Area. If you look at the Rajajinagar area today the residential belt has enveloped the industrial area and so it is natural that Industries have been asked to move out. There were many other areas like before Yeswanthpur, KR Puram side.  Earlier KR road was hardly a 20ft road. All the informal industries have been pushed out. We never did a systematic study, in those days on this topic

Can you throw a light on the linkages in the waste trail? Why does it travel to other cities?

Not all material recycled in Bangalore. Some goes to Delhi or Calcutta. Like kadak and all. But for some the technology came in here and those materials were then processed here at a secondary level. For instance the PET bottles, sending the whole bottle was not possible, so they worked out as a franchise for shredding the bottles and sending it across.

Listen to the interview here:

Interviewers: Pinky Chandran and Kabir Arora

Transcribed by Pinky Chandran and Rukuiah Yusuf

Audio Interview edited by Surendra and Syed Hidayat

First published on

The post  is a part of the Notes from Nayandahalli series and is a reflection of an ongoing study supported by Indian Institute for Human Settlements and WIPRO Cares. You can find the previous posts here… Post 1, Post 2Post 3Post 4 and Post 5.

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