SEWA Bharat's Inclusive Solid Waste Management Tool

"Nobody would give us respectable salary; SEWA is only one who has given us an option of a better life."- Basanti Ben, Saundarya Saathi

(This article was prepared by SEWA Bharat)

In Katihar, Bihar, Inclusive Cities partner SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) has been implementing a solid waste management strategy that provides women at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid with better incomes, working conditions and other services. This brief article offers highlights of the programme and its structure.    


SEWA is a labour union of poor self-employed women workers in the informal economy. Since its inception in 1972 by Smt Ela Bhatt in Gujarat, SEWA has actively employed women with no employer or fixed employer-employee relationship. Inspired heavily by Mahatma Gandhiji’s philosophies, SEWA has expanded to 9 states in the last 4 decades, with a steadily growing membership of 1.4 million. A federation, SEWA Bharat works closely with SEWA member organizations, with the mandate to highlight issues concerning women working in the informal sector and to strengthen the capacity of the organizations that serve the interests of these women.


 In 2008, SEWA set out in Katihar, Bihar with the objective of organizing women, creating employment opportunities, and linking them with health and financial services. The constant depletion of our environment is a pressing concern in times where global warming seems to be surging. Waste management assumes importance, particularly, in the Indian context owing to its rapidly expanding towns and cities due to a burgeoning population. Katihar produces roughly 32 tons of solid waste, barely half of which is properly disposed. Improper waste disposal adds up to:


  • Lowered quality of life
  • Erosion of communal space
  •  Unhealthy surroundings
  •  Further depletion of the environment.

Such environmental deterioration calls for innovation, effective and sustainable plans. With the objective of improving the existing waste disposal system and creating a replicable, inclusive and effective waste management scheme, SEWA began its Solid Waste Management program, aptly christened Swachh Katihar, Swasthya Katihar ("Clean Katihar, Healthy Katihar"). The operational model entails:

  • door-to-door waste collection
  • sweeping of streets
  • cleansing of the drainage system

swachh 1


swachh 2



As a first of its kind model, Swachh Katihar and Swasthya Katihar has the following benefits:

  • PROVIDES DIGNIFIED EMPLOYMENT: Poor and vulnerable Waste Collectors gain means of employment through this initiative, a reliable, steady income and a dignified job.
  •  EFFICIENT MANAGEMENT SOLUTION: By avoiding waste accumulation, SEWA helps prevent further pollution or decaying of the environment.
  • REDUCES POVERTY AND INEQUALITY: By providing a source of financial stability, our model helps improve the existing quality of life and aims to link members and their children to other services like that of micro-finance, vocational training, health and safety training.


Targeting the persistent discrimination, SEWA actively employs Dalits in order to help them emerge from their imposed social status.

CHANGING ATTITUDES AND CONTRIBUTING TO BETTER CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY: Awareness sessions are held to keep local residents abreast of the environmental concerns and its remedies.

REPLICABLE MODEL: The issue of Solid Waste Management is not limited to Katihar. This model can be extended to other small areas of Bihar therefore contributing more to productive environment conservation.


 The traditionally indigent Waste Collectors are addressed as Saundarya Saathis (meaning beautification agents) in Hindi as a part of our program as SEWA aims at empowering the socially downtrodden by aptly advocating for better working conditions through door-to-door waste collections, sweeping of streets and cleansing of drainage systems. Saundarya Saathis, in other words, help beautify the city. Through SEWA, these members have access to a gamut of other services such as education, financial stability, government social schemes and health care.

Leaping beyond merely being a source of employment generation, SEWA aims at holistically improving the standard of living of those associated with this initiative. Functioning as a co-operative, Swachh Katihar, Swasthya Katihar is locally aimed and managed, thereby employing a decentralized strategy to tackle the issues at hand.

"This model has shown that it is possible to change things. If people see it then they get convinced." - Nutan Shah, Resident