When Jaiprakash Chaudhary started his life as a rag picker in Delhi two decades ago, he earned at most Rs 150 a day, but today Chaudhary earns Rs 11 lakh every month from the trash business and employs about 160 people.

From Munger, Bihar, 40 year old Chaudhary, who goes by his nickname Santu, is now someone every ragpicker is proud of. He does foreign visits, gives public lectures on waste and recycling.

“My teachers feel that what I have done for the environment is something that even educated people haven’t been able to do,” he tells the Times of India.

Chaudhary started off as a rag picker. Later in 1996, despite much discriminations he had to face,  he started a roadside shop in Raja Bazar jhuggi to re-sell dry waste.

“I was harassed by police and civic body officials for years. Even today some people believe that waste pickers are thieves and many people look at them with contempt,” he tells ToI.

In 1991 he formed Safai Sena, an organisation of ragpickers, with the help of an NGO, Chintan.

Things got better in a decade. His waste segregation centre in Sikandarpur in Ghaziabad came up in 2012. Next one was near the New Delhi Railway Station.

He processes wastes from 10 malls and from offices and hotels and the railway stations. Now his employees handle almost a fourth of Delhi waste.

“Recycling can lift thousands out of poverty, while incinerating waste only creates pollution,” he says referring to the employment the process generates.

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