Sunday, December 21, 2014

Clean India Campaign - Problems and Lasting Solutions in Urban Areas

Another campaign of the government to make and look India cleaner seem to be going to dogs, literally. The campaign is blamed often as a photo-op event management than a genuine effort in cleaning up. Where do some of its problems lie and how should we overcome them?
Municipal workers dump garbage on street as animals and
rag pickers vie for it in Patna, India

1. Planning in Cleaning Up: Whereas it is easier to clean up a stretch or a road, it is much difficult to clean up a city or a town. This can only be done with micro-planning (as done for polio immunization). The point is to clean up to such a level that no one sees filth sooner or nearer. If one stretch is clean when the rest or not, the probability of cleaned up stretch getting filthier increases. Remember the "broken windows" theory, and how every sub-urban train in NY was cleaned up every night to ensure that the hooligans get fed up for writing on them. This might require high schools, colleges, non-governmental organizations, municipalities, other government officials and business bodies getting united and supporting the same. A detailed micro-plan on who would do what, where, when, and equipping them adequately with voluntary and paid-up support, where necessary. Most of this can come up through volunteerism, as for example, students and volunteers bringing in spades and brooms, businessmen supporting with trucks that can carry the garbage, municipalities and government officials supporting in additional resources, planning and monitoring. Do it in a single stretch, for dedicated hours and review it.

2. Sustain the Efforts: Cleanliness is not a one time event. It is related to daily life-cycle. First, if required, repeat the general cleaning after a month or two, plugging the loopholes. In fact, it would be easier this time as there would be less filth that what was in the first time. Sustaining the efforts means, ensuring that we generate less waste and improve processing. How can we do this:
a) Remove taxes on bio-digestors for two years: This should reduce the cost of installation of bio-digestors in all housing complexes and markets in cities and towns. Follow up with legal sanctions to ensure that every market in a town or city of more than 100,000 population, and a housing complex of more than 10 families has a bio-digestor.
b) Corporate and Educational Involvement in Drainage: Drainage in most towns and cities are done on unplanned or crudely planned engineering. Include all engineering colleges in the country to help plan drainage in cities and towns. Allow Corporates to spend the 2% of their CSR money on building drainage in the country. Remember, the too much attention on bathrooms can wait....because, it is only the filthy garbage filled areas and walls get the attention of people who go for open defecation or peeing in cities.
c) Public Partnership: Just as providing ambulances by corporates and private entrepreneurs is free from tax, give tax exemptions for public health spending by private donors. For example, providing truck to a government body to lift and carry garbage can be freed from taxes. Over a period this will get all poorer municipalities and Corporations to have adequate resources to manage.
d) Support Recycling Industry: The recycling industry is vastly unorganized till the segregation and terminal point from where materials go for recycling. Support this group by extending health benefits (as given to tea garden or mine workers), as they hand often toxic or other materials risking their health. 
e) Regularize garbage collection: In the town where I live, many families leave their garbage outside their house, not because they do not have the money to keep it with them till the garbage is collected, but because no one knows when will the garbage collectors would come! The garbage kept outside the houses fall into drains and fly in the air clogging the drain and polluting air. In Uttarakhand towns, trucks come every morning or in evenings, with a loudspeaker announcement inviting people to bring and dump the garbage. Why can't this be done across the country?
f) Make Available Easy-to-use Public Toilets: Mobile easy to use public toilets can be one of the regular features added to improving municipal sanitation services. These can be self-sustaining at a minimum cost. Adequate light, water and ease of access to public toilets is essential for improving services. For example, take a look at the public toilet at Boring Road Chowraha in Patna city. It is on the one side surrounded by vendors, and on the other side is surrounded by garbage thrown by municipal workers. Expecting someone to use it of no use.
g) Punish the Offenders: It is important that there is a system to catch the offenders. Have plainclothes men and women to catch people and give tickets on spot. This must start with innocuously dirtying people who make every place a suitable one for what is known in India as "public nuisance" - those spitting paan. Look a the way the majestic pillars of Howrah bridge had to be hidden because of the bloody spitting from the pedestrians was damaging them! Just start catching people and fine them on spot. (By the way, the way of collecting fines has to improve in India. All fines must be payable online after 24 hours of issuing the ticket.) Or, go one step further: profile those peeing in public. Do not start a huge catch on a single day as most of the times things are done. That only stops behavior till the campaign is on. Catching 10 persons in a day in a city gets people to change their behaviour than catching 500 in a day. This is because, catching 500 in a day needs huge investment of human and material resources. But catching 10 in a day can be done through normal duty. The news spreads over a period. Sustain it.
3. Beautification: As the places get cleaner it is also important to beatify them. Involvement of citizen groups, corporates and collaboration of local government are key to success in this regards. Painting and planting are two activities that can be taken up beyond the mere task to the level of aesthetically appealing. Art on public walls and staircases can be one of the tasks that can be easily given to students and institutions of art!

The whole effort might take nearly a decade. But start moving now. Involve people who can coordinate institutions to establish and execute. Include experts in micro-planning to execute macro plans. The agenda is national, solutions are local.

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