Sunday, July 26, 2015

Swachh Bharat - Time for govt. bodies to buckle up!

The following article has been written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference. 

Very early on, when Swachh Bharat was announced, I had an interesting discussion with a friend on twitter. The claim was that this is just another government programme, probably even an extension of the UPA program – Nirmal Bharat. I countered this by saying that Swachh Bharat is not just about building toilets alone. It is one of the best examples of participatory governance. It is asking the citizens also to start taking responsibility for the cleanliness of their surroundings. We are notorious for spitting on the roads; for throwing waste anywhere and everywhere; for contributing to the shabbiness rather than the cleanliness of public places (bus stands, railway stations, temples etc). Swachh Bharat was therefore a wake-up call to the nation as a whole – start cleaning up.
We have had some fabulous examples of how citizens have taken up the cudgels on behalf of this mission. But before going into them, I would like to discuss a few things about the general apathy from the government (includes all governments – panchayats, municipalities, state government, central government) side.
The TRS government in Telangana is perhaps the only opposition ruled state that has picked up the Swachh Bharat campaign in full earnest. Chief Minister, KCR has spearheaded this campaign for a full three days, setting in motion “Swachh Hyderabad” and “Swacch Telangana” – with time bound action plans (and some innovative thoughts too – for example: two different types of dustbins per home) . The program is still in its nascent stages, and therefore I would like to present a few ideas on some changes that will lead to a cleaner India. This message is generic, and shall apply to many cities, but since I am from Hyderabad, would be citing examples from here itself.

First – our waste disposal systems. We often have overflowing open waste bins – sample the picture below taken near to where I live.
There are a couple of tiffin centers just a few feet away from where this waste is strewn. I need not even get into the harmful health affects this has – it is therefore very important that the citizens are provided with proper bins to dispose of waste in large quantities.
Second – how do we transport this waste? In open trucks and rickshaws, with unbearable stench emanating from them. While travelling in an auto or a bike, I felt really sick many a time. And given the speed at which they run, often the garbage just keep flying out of these vehicles too!
GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) has a few trucks that have a closed door system – it beats me as to why we have to follow these primitive methods in transporting waste? Why can’t we order more such vehicles that don’t cause inconvenience to those using the roads?
Third – small bins on footpaths. The below picture is taken on the long footpath outside “Sultan Ul-Uloom Educational Society”. This a large campus that houses a school, an engineering college etc. They have placed such bins all along the foot path that borders their college wall.
Just on the opposite side of the road, not a single such bin exists – a sore sight to see. One of the institutions that exist on the other side of the road is the Administrative Staff College of India, where even IAS officers are trained!
I am not sure if the GHMC is considering having such bins (if not as many as the college put up, but a tleast few) – but this is a must-have feature on our footpaths (that is, wherever we have footpaths!). Or perhaps one can incentivise such institutions who adopt the footpaths abetting their walls. Whichever way, it is very important that the citizens have access to a bin while walking on footpaths to dispose any waste.
Fourth – open drainages. That such things exist is an abomination. Closing these out must have been on the top priority when the campaign started, but looks like this was not even on the list! Let me post an image of a large open drainage on Raj Bhavan Road (and just a few feet away from a hospital).
And before you accuse me of expecting too much from the government, please refer to the picture below. This picture is right opposite the road – and the drainage is covered from the top! Now, what explains this inconsistency? Baffles me every single time I walk on this road (which is almost daily!).
Or even at residential areas – the below picture is from a household area in the posh Hitech City. If this is the state in Hitech city, can you begin to imagine “low tech” cities?
I must mention here that Swacch Telangana program has a plan to cover all open nalas. Hopefully the municipalities and panchayats take up this with all the seriousness it deserves.
Fifth – our government hospitals. It is such a pity that we don’t maintain basic hygiene at the one place that we must – hospitals! This is perhaps themost rampant evil in this whole campaign, irrespective of a hospital being in a city, town or village! Governments must put in a concerted effort to fix this sickness first!
I was recently talking to a few government school children in AP. There are Swachh Bharat lessons painted on their walls, lest they forget! Children are enthusiastic in replying that they wash their hands before and after eating; wear clean clothes etc, when asked about what does Swachh Bharat mean for them. I was told that the focus on having clean toilets has increased in the last one year.
However, two glaring inadequacies – near total lack of awareness amongst the adult population of villages and the abysmal waste disposal systems – actually if we have such glaring problems in the capital city, what good can we expect in villages?
Another important point I would like to mention is the apathy of the public representatives from the BJP. Given the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to this program, one would assume that the MLAs and MPs from the ruling party would lap this up with full earnest. My MLA is from BJP; my MP is from BJP and is a Union Minister too. Most of the pictures I have pasted in this article are from my constituency. I can paste many more such pictures – a testimony of the pathetic participation in this unique program. Some folks online have argued that this is the responsibility of the municipality concerned. MLAs and MPs are at the forefront in inaugurating works completed by the municipalities – then why not spearhead Swachh Bharat?
When I complained on twitter about my MLA and MP, many folks responded back that their MLAs are doing a good job – which validates my initial argument J – my representatives are simply basking in a victory one year back! Politically also, Swacch Bharat in Hyderabad makes so much sense – we have corporation elections coming up, so imagine the good will that will be generated if you work on this program. But alas!
A discussion on Swachh Bharat is not complete without mentioning the citizen participation so far. Did you ever imagine that Sachin Tendulkar will clean a footpath? Did you ever imagine that a girl from Nagaland will toil to make Varanasi ghats clean? Many stories abound on how retirees have taken up this cause; how doctors have taken up this cause; how even children have taken up this cause!
I have written elsewhere that Swachh Bharat has reached the unreached, in quite some unimaginable ways –
In my view, the call of the duty by the Prime Minister has touched the “responsibility nerve” of people. What else can explain a Sachin Tendulkar, a Priyanka Chopra, a Anil Ambani, a Temsutula Imsong, a bunch of kids in an apartment complex, a batch of retirees, a group of doctors – working towards a common goal?
So while citizens and private institutions have taken this up in full earnest, the same kind of enthusiasm is lacking from public representatives and government bodies. It is time to buckle up, and then clean up!