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Safai Centre
Delhi, India
image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Location:
Delhi, India
Category:
emergency shelter
Phase:
construction preparation
Updated:
2 January 2023
The Safai Centre aims to build resilience amongst waste-working communities by providing an inclusive space for skill development and capacity building. Set in Bhalswa, infamous for a colossal landfill, where toil around 1200 waste-pickers, the space shall function as a medium for climate risk mitigation and fostering a transition towards green jobs. The center is a revamp to an existing community center carried out through upcycled material. 
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Introduction
India’s capital city of Delhi has relied on top-down centralized systems throughout its contemporary development. This results in the city’s margins taking up a subservient role to its nexus. The downfall of one system - the city’s waste management - is experienced at Bhalswa, a town on the margins. Four decades of unapologetic waste dumping have resulted in the creation of a colossal dumpsite. The methane-emitting water-leaching dumpsite has turned the area’s historic wetland ecosystem degenerate. What is lesser known, is that the area is also home to over 200,000 people comprising the city’s urban poor as climate refugees, migrants, and frontline workers. 

The worst affected are those directly, though informally involved with the landfill - waste-pickers. These communities, living in close proximity owing to a working relationship with incoming waste, bear incredible hardships in their daily life. Regular cases of fire during Delhi’s hot summer and landslides in the monsoon often lead to weeks of continuous toxic exposure along with loss of shelter and livelihoods. In addition to climate vulnerability are social and caste-based stigmas that the community witnesses throughout. 

As the civic authority undertakes biomining in an effort to bring down the landfill, the plight of the area’s waste-working community is uncertain and at risk. A rehabilitation effort to transition to green jobs necessitates capacity building and skill development.
Waste=picker communities by the Bhalswa landfill are unsung heroes working on the frontlines

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Impact
The Safai Sena Centre aspires to bring in dignified representation and grounding the waste workers' communities. In the immediate context, the center shall function as a base of operations to promote dignified and decent work. It shall also be a forum to conduct capacity-building and skilling workshops for the waste-picker community, and for city folk. Leveraging the act of building as an opportunity, the center’s design and development shall involve participatory processes and green skilling through the installation of solar panels, the development of rainwater harvesting pits, composting, etc. 

In instances of unprecedented landfill fires and landslides, the space shall work to safeguard the community. The building’s small footprint in a large open space brings great regard for flexibility in temporarily accommodating a displaced population and providing relief facilities such as food, water, and medical care. It can also serve as a community shelter for waste-pickers during extreme weather conditions such as heat waves.

In the longer run, the center shall be a space to consolidate our goals to facilitate green jobs and evolve from waste workers to urban waste managers. As an organization of, by, and for waste working communities, the center shall also be grounds to protect the communities’ rights, prevent ostracisation, and enable a better future. The initiative is also a scalable and replicable model for citywide implementation and scaling enabling the creation waste-based network for better future adaptation and resilience. 
sdgs
Core team
Safai Sena is a registered group of waste pickers, doorstep waste collectors, itinerant and other small buyers, small junk dealers, and other types of recyclers. Its vision is for adult waste handlers to upgrade their work to green jobs. This implies that apart from benefiting the environment, waste work should be safe, respected, recognized, and clean. Our dream is also for our children to go to school instead of becoming waste-pickers.

Safai Sena is represented by three of its board members.

  1. Shyra Bano, President
  2. Jayprakash Chowdhary, General Secretary
  3. Santosh Kumar Gupta, Treasurer
Representing Safai Sena are Balmukund Kumar and Alpha Arpana Toppo.

Balmukund is the coordinator of Safai Sena. He has five years of experience working with the waste-picker community in Delhi, Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. 

Alpha looks at the Informal sector and Environment at Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group. She oversees Safai Sena’s activities relevant to social and financial security. She conducts evidence-based research and policy advocacy for waste-pickers in the circular economy.

Better Bhalswa
Better Bhalswa is an urban regeneration initiative at Delhi’s worst. Since 2020, the initiative has set up collaborations to develop an ecosystem of solutions to better Bhalswa. Better Bhalswa is led by Gunraagh Singh Talwar, who brings in his technical skills as an architect together with his engagement skills as a social innovator. 
play
Image gallery
Despite being frontline workers, waste-pickers at Bhalswa pay a hefty price for Delhi's waste management

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Safai Sena has operated in Bhalswa since year 2000. It routinely carries out sensitization and capacity building programs for waste-pickers and other affected communities at Bhalswa and beyond.

image: Safai Sena | © all rights reserved
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Owing to their occupation, waste-pickers occupy the very threshold of the Bhalswa landfill. This exposes them to year-round health and safety hazards

image: public domain
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Safai Sena also hosts routine workshops and trainings

image: Safai Sena | © all rights reserved
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At its heart, the organization is a coalition of waste-pickers. As one for, by, and of, the community regular community consultations are a great part of operations.

image: Safai Sena | © all rights reserved
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Since 2020, Better Bhalswa has been working on-ground at Delhi's worst to bring about a positive turnaround

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Residents living by the landfill are routinely susceptible to disasters. In August 2021, a part of the landfill collapsed over an informal settlement leading to loss of collateral and livelihoods. Better Bhalswa worked to provide immediate relief, restore

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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In 2022, a massive fire erupted at Bhalswa engulfing a part of the landfill and impacting neighbouring commuities. Waste-pickers were worst affected.

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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In the aftermath of the fire, Safai Sena worked to provide immediate relief as rations, clothes, and shelter.

image: Safai Sena | © all rights reserved
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The Safai Centre is proposed as an incremental revamp of an existing but abandoned community building.

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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The space lies in proximity to the community but at a safe distance to be directly affected by the landfill.

image: public domain
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The revamp manifests through simple ideas in renovation, landscape, and green infrastructure.

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Community centric art at the public interface helps establish a local connect to Bhalswa

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Inclusion of frugal green-infrastructure as a means to inculcate green-skilling and resource conservation

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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The building’s small footprint in a larger open space enables temporal activation for disaster mitigation and capacity building sessions

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Multiple rooms within the unit allow for flexible configuration as space for organizational use such as administration and skill development

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Renovation work within the unit includes waterproofing, repairs, and electrical work

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar / Safai Sena | © all rights reserved
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Do-it-Together workshops are a means to develop capacity and green-skills through the implementation phase

image: public domain
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Do-it-Together workshops post implementation bring together community and activate the centre at Bhalswa

image: public domain
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Technical drawings
Wastepicker communities at Bhalswa, Delhi

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Disaster mitigation strategy and evacuation plan

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Existing floor plans for the community centre

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Proposed interventions for the Safai Centre

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Shading solutions during summer, monsoon, and disaster include retractable textile, or solar-panel mounted canopies

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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The revamp involves minimal interventions to co-create a vibrant community space

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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The building’s interior serves most year-round functions, its surrounding open space activates in times of need or as intended.

image: Gunraagh Singh Talwar | © all rights reserved
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Help bring our project to life!

There are no updates yet.

Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
Safai Sena has been operating at Bhalswa since year 2000 with the waste-pickers of Bhalswa. More than 1200 waste-pickers are associated with us in Bhalswa. 

We are currently finalizing the revamping strategy for the Centre. Our initial dialogue with the Delhi Urban Improvement and Shelter Board brings promise with permissions for the adoption of the vandalized community center on the way. The shelter board is also working on an estimate for the repair and maintenance of the structure including the installation of necessary water and electric connections. 
An indication of our team’s capacity:
20% funding already raised
50% expertise already found
60% builders already found
Finance: € 4,863
The funding will facilitate the development of a dignified operations center for 1200 waste-pickers living and working by Delhi’s landfills. The centre shall work to build capacity and resilience in the ever-marginalized community and foster its mission to transition towards safe work and green jobs. The revamp project shall also provide an inclusive space for disaster mitigation from routine fires, heat waves, urban floods, and landfill landslides. The development also aspires to give back and build with the community, catalyzing their transition through green skilling. The scalable model shall also work as a replicable means for safe waste-work and sensitization across the country.
  • Renovation
2,964
  • Green infrastructure development
594
  • Landscaping including plinths, seating,
356
  • Temporary pop-up shelter as shaded canopy
237
  • Space rental for 6 months
712
Skills: Technique, PR & Marketing, Planning & Management
The Safai Centre embodies the Do-it-Together idealogy at heart and looks forward to hearing from volunteers to support better implementation and operations. 

Planning and Management: If you are based out of Delhi, we would love to have you collaborate with us for effective project planning and construction management. 

Technique: The project aspires to carry out circular practices and innovative techniques for development of green-infrastructure. We look forward to collaborating with practitioners and innovators to explore new techniques and technologies.

PR and Marketing: We look forward to working with young volunteers and media-ninjas to help with outreach.
Help bring our project to life!
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