Going by the response to our news reports on civic problems, what seems to rankle our readers most is an unclean Delhi. For every report on sanitation, there are numerous mails on littered streets, overflowing public bins, choked drains, men urinating in public and spit-stained walls.
In 2008, Forbes magazine rated Delhi as the world’s 24th dirtiest city. We got a drubbing for the pollution in the Yamuna with garbage dumped and sewage flowing freely in the surroundings. Yet, there was hope. Delhi was preparing for Commonwealth Games 2010. Like any other city bidding to host big ames, Delhi too pledged to use the opportunity to transform a semi-urban sprawl into a “world class” megacity.
The government promised us a generational leap in the city infrastructure, a civic makeover with trash-free roads, heavy fines for littering, 1,000 waterless toilets, and awareness campaigns such as Dilli ki beti urging people to stop urinating and throwing garbage in public spaces.
But the “world class” sheen started waning almost as soon as the party was over. The waterless toilets have been shut down and people are back to urinating on walls.
The stainless steel bins have been stolen and garbage is back where it traditionally belonged. Dilli ki beti has disappeared from the billboards and there is no one to tell our callous residents that throwing trash out of the car window is shameful.
Connaught Place is still a mess. But the portions restored before the Games don’t look too different from the blocks that have been ripped open for construction. The ivory-white corridors are stained and every corner stinks of urine.
According to an estimate, almost 10% of the garbage that is generated in Delhi ends up on its streets. With just no one looking, Delhi’s littering problem is an enforcement issue. Street cleaners either don’t turn up for duty or barely do their job.
The proposal to increase fines for urinating, spitting or littering in public places from R50 to R500 has been pending for years. But it shouldn’t have stopped civic agencies to impose the existing penalties as deterrence.
Garbage is not picked up regularly even in the zones where it has been out outsourced to private agencies. Even when they spot a trash pile-up, officials feel no obligation to report it to the sanitation department.
As part of Delhi First last week, HT wrote about trash overflowing from a garbage station in Mayur Vihar Extension. Within hours of the article appearing, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation commissioned a clean-up and more than 60 tonnes of garbage, accumulating over weeks, was cleared in a couple of hours.
The South Delhi Corporation now wants to distribute android mobile phones to its 100 sanitation inspectors who would take photos of piled up garbage and send them to the control room for action against cleaners and collection agencies. But who will inspect the inspectors?
A good idea would be to institutionalise the concept of model ward tried out in west Delhi’s Punjabi Bagh where residents prepared weekly reports on the cleaning of community bins and street sweeping to submit to the civic agencies.
While demanding accountability from the authorities, wrote a reader in response to last week’s Metro Matters on city’s garbage disposal, we must own up responsibilities and change our own habits. We should also report, even confront, others who treat this city as a mega bin and open urinal.