Few issues in India are far from politics, and garbage is no exception. Given an energy shortage, overflowing landfills and a bid for carbon credits under the global Kyoto Protocol climate pact, several trash-to-energy plants are planned, including one at 30-year-old Ghazipur.
Supporters say these will modernize an inefficient system. Critics say they're a plot by hard-line Hindu politicians to keep down Muslims, would release even more dioxin and would destroy rag-picker livelihoods.
Pickers complain that even now they can't keep pace with rising food costs.
"I manage to make enough to feed us," said Habibullah, as a small boy walked by naked except for flip-flops. "But I can never get ahead."
The more ambitious are no longer content to wait for belching garbage trucks, so they head into neighborhoods to get higher-quality waste from residents, earning more money.
"There's a high probability they could be middle class in a generation or two," Chintan's Chaturvedi said. "We can't bring miracles. But as Delhi develops, there's great need for even moderately educated people."
Out on the campaign trail a few days before the election, flanked by hundreds of supporters, candidate Choudhary shook hands, held babies and touched the feet of elderly voters, a sign of humility.
"I will continue to work and spread awareness about rag-picker rights," he said. "I hope I'm an inspiration to others. Can you imagine no one picking up the waste from your house, even for a day?"
Tanvi Sharma of The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.