A different take on Swacch Bharath

(pic source: news.oneindia.in)
(pic source: news.oneindia.in)

I have been thinking about this Swachh Bharath Abhiyaan that is the “in-thing” nowadays. For those who have been living under a rock for the last 2 months, this is the initiative kicked off by our PM – Narendra Modi – which encourages people to take on a pledge to ‘clean our India’ by spending atleast 2 hours per week. He said his characteristic fervour and said if our ‘sava sow karod desh vaasiyon’ (1.25 crore people of India) each do their bit, our country would be sparkling clean. Very noble initiative, I must say. And yes, we need to do something about our state of the country with respect to cleanliness. It is a mess. And sure, no other PM has ever touched this subject. So it is commendable.

But I digress, let me get back to my thoughts. As much as I think it is a great initiative, it is my personal belief that the implementation methodology might be slightly flawed. Again, disclaimer, I stress on the words “I think” and “my personal belief”. I would love to be proved wrong.

Ever since the initiative started, there have been challenges that have taken place on celebrities who have awkwardly held brooms that they have never held in their hands before, and made pretenses of cleaning a bit of a street (here, here, here, and several more). Our PM did a good job – probably because he had done this kind of thing during his RSS days. My problem fundamentally boils down to two things:

The scale of garbage and junk in our country is way more than can be handled by how many ever people awkwardly wielding brooms, wearing green gloves, and a black plastic garbage bag in hand. It is not a scalable solution.

If the people are going to be cleaning, what are the corporations going to be doing? Are there any initiatives that have percolated down to the Municipal corporations? Atleast I have not seen any change in the BBMP or in the Chennai Municipal Corporations. These fine folk have the equipment, the machinery, and the skilled manpower to handle garbage. Given adequate direction and incentives, they can bring about change that the billion of us cannot achieve together.

Ok, I now see the dozen of you come forward quoting the fabled – “Ask not what the country does for you .. blah blah”. I agree. But be practical. More practical would be the case, where there is a massive drive by the Government with the corporations, panchayats, municipalities (all working together), perhaps even with participation from the public (the ambanis, khans, and the rest of us mango folk too) – and then, the Government says – Now, you sava sow karod vaasiyon, we have given you a clean slate to begin with. We are now giving you a methodology for waste disposal. We are giving you these laws by which we can punish the wrong-doers. Now, do you bit, in preserving this beauty.

Now, you may say, is this scalable? Is such a massive drive even possible? Give it some thought. This does not need happen over night on one day throughout the country. National Clean Our Garbage Day. NO sir. That will not happen, and does not scale. But as a good software engineer will tell you, start incrementally. Start working on portions of a city. It has been proven possible. I have read articles about Surat doing it. I have seen parts of  Electronic City (In Bangalore) do it (the IT companies partly fund this). I have seen portions of Coimbatore like this. In short, I have seen this in all places where there is a good corporator.

In short, get a concerted effort by the government (multiple bodies working together and perhaps public participation) to do a first sweep cleanliness drive. Then work with the public to ‘keep’ it that way. Formalize processes for waste segregation and waste disposal.¬†Impose regulations and penalties. That is the way to go IMHO.

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