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As GST completes 90 days, its impact on the scrap collecting sector is worrisome

Krishnan, 26, from Chennai is the sole breadwinner of his family. He is a waste picker and used to earn around ₹10,000 a month before July 1 this year. Today he earns only half the amount of what he used to get...


As GST completes 90 days, its impact on the scrap collecting sector is worrisome

Krishnan, 26, from Chennai is the sole breadwinner of his family. He is a waste picker and used to earn around ₹10,000 a month before July 1 this year. Today he earns only half the amount of what he used to get before the implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST).

Under the GST regime most recyclable items have been taxed at 18 per cent, while some are taxed at 12 per cent. This simply means that recyclable items are sold in the market for the same price as brand new ones and this is causing a huge negative in the lives of waste collectors.

“I am finding it hard to meet the daily requirements of my family,” says Krishnan. “If the Centre doesn’t reconsider the current policy I will have to look for another job.”

According to a survey by Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group there has been an aggregate loss of 40-50 per cent in the daily wages of waste pickers since the announcement of GST. The sudden shift and blind-spot in the policy has affected many lives.

According to a 2010 study, there are around 1.5 million waste pickers in Indiaalone. They are the ones who keeps our urban spaces clean. But the new tax regime has hit their bellies hard and most of them are being forced to search for other means to keep afloat.

Threat to environment

If waste pickers leave this job then urban spaces will get filled with waste. India is expected to generate around 165 million tonnes of waste by 2030 and if not properly recycled it will affect the environment badly as the country is already suffering due to pollution.

“Recycling, widely acknowledged as key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if hampered will lead to waste lying uncollected in cities and pose grave environmental concerns,” says Chitra Mukherjee of Chintan. “It will also result in some low value wastes such as plastic bags to go unrecycled, fill the gap between recycled and virgin materials such as PET and cause undesirable environmental impacts.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister after GST was launched, waste pickers wrote: “We are the true soldiers of the Swachh Bharat Mission that was launched by you, who are doing their jobs of maintaining the environment and health of the people. But this move has marred the livelihoods of over 15 lakh people who deal in scrap.”

In the long run GST will also have a big impact on children of waste pickers. “Data from 2013 shows that from other cases of reduced income in the waste sector, 63 per cent of children from an impacted site dropped out of school to start working in order to supplement their family income when their parents were unable to access waste,” says Mukherjee.

(This article was published on September 26, 2017)

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