Some Solutions — Part 2 of UnSwachh Bharat

Simple Solutions — Stringent Fines, and some additional funding in the right places

Mohan’s article above made me realize that this problem has existed even prior to India’s Independence — and prior to the population growth spurt.

Public dumping of trash — not isolated to any one city

Most Indian cities have little planning for waste management.

A simple thunderstorm almost always results in water logging (roads filled with water), disrupting normal life. If you are unfortunate enough to live near a sewage line, you probably experience sewage overflows as well.

Even without weather events, with bright sunshine days, Indians treat their natural resources (parks, rivers) like their personal trash can.

Images like the one above are a daily sight, almost in plain sight of policemen and municipal authorities.

When I bring up this topic, there are several responses — some agree and are resigned to the state of affairs. Others argue that outside trash is ‘not my problem’. But mostly, I get defensive answers:

You don’t understand Indian culture, you don’t understand how clean we keep our homes, how we bathe 3 times a day…We are clean, you are just looking in the wrong places…

It is true. Car window trashers exist everywhere. However, there are two major differences.

  1. There is always a clean up crew that tackles roadside trash — either on a weekly or a monthly basis
  2. There are STRICT penalties if you are actually caught in the act. This acts as a deterrent.

The only way that a group of non co-operative citizens can change behavior is through education or penalties (ignoring brute force usage, as happens in dictatorial countries).

Education has largely failed India — at least basic civic sense education. We haven’t learnt from asian examples like Japan or Thailand, where basic cleanliness is taught from childhood (both at home and in schools). In India, parents encourage their children to throw trash out of moving cars and in public places.

Several messages during popular movie showings, several widely heard speeches — all have little to no effect on the polluters.

However, imposing fines / penalties does seem to work effectively across all of India.

Chalaan (fines) arewhat finally got Indians wearing seat belts as well as (covid) masks.

Indians were anti seat belts (and still are for the most part). It was only through regular and persistent police checks (and resulting fines), that Indians took to regulary putting on their seat belts.

Why the police, which is already empowered to handle such situations (and impose fines), doesn’t tackle polluters, is a bit of a mystery, but part of it is that the people who set their priorities (local politicians) are largely guilty of keeping things filthy.

This is also what I consider the silver bullet solution. It will stop polluters overnight.

Just like penalties managed to get Indians wearing seat belts and masks, literally overnight.

While several entities share the responsibility, the municipal bodies of Indian cities are at the center of all this filth. Understaffed and Underfunded, there are 4 to 5 managers (IAS bureaucrats) for every worker in these decrepit, outdated institutions.

Cleaning up existing filth from our cities and rivers is a gargantuan task in itself. It will require additional staff (and additional funding) for almost every city municipality. Even the machines for sweeping and trash disposal are in dire need of upgrades.

Accountability of Municipality Leadership

City level politicians should be held accountable (through lawsuits and jail time). True love for Bharat Maa is not just changing slogans — it requires ineffective municipality leaders be removed from their positions and tried for negligence.

An open sewage in downtown Faridabad, that had existed since 1947 (yes — you read that right), was finally filled, partly possibly due to letters and emails that I kept up over the course of a year.

Kids in School, are often seen conducting cleanliness drives, much to the shame of local municipal bodies.

If you live in India, you must try and confront any acts that you witness.

My wife and I do this about half a dozen times a day, often into angry and un receptive faces.

However, in some cases, we do see a change.

The park bordering residents that were accustomed to throwing their trash over the fence and into the park, have stopped doing so (ever since my wife hauled them up and gave them a sound lesson in civic cleanliness). She also took pictures which she threatened to send to the cops. I am not sure whether the lecture worked or the threat did. However, a change was produced.

Active citizenry requires you to confront polluters directly.

And, for larger issues, to write directly to your city’s active police and active MCD twitter account. It also helps to include the CM on the tweet, as this is what gets the MCDs attention.

This is a common argument. Sewer lines are too old, electric lines are too old…Everything will need to be dug up — and that’s just not possible.

However, in the last decade, both optical fiber lines and gas pipelines, have made their way into homes in most major cities. This has happened in the same old neighborhoods, where digging was considered impossible. Everything was dug up — and replaced once the new service was provided.

It’s not just possible, it’s easily doable.

Mahatma Gandhi, the great teacher, taught Indians the phrase ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’.

Modi, arguably India’s most popular Prime Minister of all time, also started his tenure with the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) proposal.

Popular Indian leaders seem to realize the urgency of this task.

The very launch of Swachh Bharat was momentous — and the phrase has become a catch-phrase in India.

Indians, deep down, or maybe not that deep down, understand how filthy their country is.

They’re just not motivated enough to do anything about it. In my humble opinion (and experience), stringent fines, including arrests for polluting, will solve the problem. Increased municipal funding will help maintain ongoing efforts. These are hardly complex solutions. In fact, they are so simple, that just about every major country in the world, has been able to achieve this.

On the world index for hunger, India ranks 107th out of the 121 countries surveyed. That’s close to dead last.

However, in terms of filthiness, it’s not even a contest. India is dead last, and by a long margin. Even the landfills of most countries are cleaner than urban Indian cities. Shocking, Sad, yet, true.



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