UNDP releases new study on socio-economic condition of safai saathis

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India has released a baseline analysis of the socio-economic situation of Safai Sathis or waste pickers. The analysis is one of the first large-scale assessments conducted in India, covering 9,300 Safai Sathis in 14 cities.

The Baseline was undertaken as part of Project ‘Utthaan – Rise with Resilience’ under UNDP’s Plastic Waste Management Programme. Utthaan is UNDP India’s COVID-19 response enabling Safai Sathis to access government schemes and build more resilient communities.

The Baseline had an equal representation of male and female Safai Sathis and found that the work undertaken by them is highly informal, which restricts income and job mobility: Some of the key findings included:

  •   6 out of 10 Safai Sathis reported having a bank account
  •   21 percent of the Safai Sathis reported access to Jan Dhan Yojana, with an even lower proportion indicating access and use of digital payment methods
  •   Except for Aadhar and voter cards – ownership of which was reported by more than 90 percent and 60 percent Safai Sathis, respectively– all other forms of identification such as birth, income, caste, and occupation certificates were found to be severely lacking across the community
  •   50 percent of the Safai Sathi reported owning and using a ration card
  •   Health insurance coverage among Safai Sathis was below 5 percent
  •   Temporary sheds and rented housing were reported as the most common forms of accommodation       
  •   More than 90 percent of Safai Sathis reported having a continuous drinking water supply, while 80 percent had an electricity supply
  •   Access and use of sanitation facilities were reported only by 60 percent of Safai Sathis
  •   Wood-based fuels for cooking were recorded at par with cleaner alternatives

In 2021, UNDP also launched the first-ever Social Protection Facilitation Centre in Goa with the support of Embassy of Japan to boost access to social protection for Safai Sathis. The Centre acts as a crucial bridge between the government departments operating social protection schemes and Safai Sathis.

“Safai Sathis play a key role in plastic recycling. With the findings and evidence from UNDP’s first-ever comprehensive analysis on the socio-economic status of the Safai Sathis, we will work with the urban local bodies and government departments to build programmes and outreach that have a meaningful impact in the lives of Safai Sathis,” said Ms. Shoko Noda, Resident Representative, UNDP India.

The Baseline also identified certain key areas for improvement to promote social empowerment of the Safai Sathis. The four broad policy recommendations include:

  •     Formulation of a welfare framework to design social protection schemes for Safai Sathis.
  •     Strengthening and formalizing the economic contributions of this community.
  •     Initiating skilling programmes and exploring alternate livelihood opportunities.
  •     Expanding and increasing the uptake of social safety nets among the Safai Sathis.

At the launch, Hindustan Unilever also announced its support to the next phase of Utthaan, reaching 3,000 Safai Sathis in Delhi and Mumbai with access to government schemes. Hindustan Unilever is already supporting UNDP’s efforts to manage and process plastic waste in Mumbai by setting up 4 Swachhta Kendras and reaching 75,000 households.

UNDP’s plastic waste management programme is currently operational in 35 cities, partnering with corporates and urban local bodies for sustainable waste management practices. The plastic collected and processed so far has already crossed 83,000 metric tonnes. The project has reached out to 5,000 Safai Sathis to institutionalize workers from the informal sector through these centers.

Disclaimer: This article is taken from a press release issued by the UNDP.

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