One of the first things our civics teacher told us in school – and here I am going back half a century – was not to litter roads. “These are an extension of our homes which we all like to keep clean,” she said, or words to the effect.
Good personal and civic hygiene are hardly new or novel ideas – at home or school – so what’s the big hullabaloo about, one might ask. I think it’s as much the issue as well as in the timing of bringing it to the forefront.
There are policy aspects on which Narendra Modi can be questioned. Indeed several critics say they are still waiting for firm policies, not merely homilies, to be announced by him! But it is impossible for anybody to negate the motive of making the country clean.
Where the PM has been politically adroit with his ‘Clean India’ campaign is that he has scaled it up to become a national cause. Cleanliness as an issue existed with previous government too but he has raised the decibel level where it cannot be ignored and used props – including interestingly Mahatma Gandhi – for greater credibility.
Obliquely, he has also used the issue to stump his political rivals.
Cleanliness was something staring all parties in the face (the BJP too, which has been the Shiv Sena’s partner in the BMC) for many years, but Modi saw enough value in it to ramp it up. The political dividends of this campaign will be known in a few weeks as some states, including Maharashtra, go to polls.
But the social benefits – in terms of health and hygiene as well as reduced spend on garbage collection – are enormous in themselves and in Mumbai’s case should certainly should have been tackled ages ago.
Plain bald figures accessed from the BMC and NGOs dealing with the subject reveal that the city generates more than 6% of the national garbage, or approximately 7,500 mega tonnes, everyday.
Apart from this, there is also approximately 22 tonnes of industrial waste, which is almost half the national figure. All told, the net result is that every individual in Mumbai is producing close to one kilogram of garbage and waste every day, which is a staggering amount.
How this affects us becomes known every now and then when some extraneous factors influence the environment.
For instance, flooding of the city, especially parts of South Mumbai following cyclonic showers a fortnight ago, were largely due to street garbage.
I was stuck for over two hours in an office at Tardeo as he water had risen almost a couple of feet on the roads. After the levels subsided, a volunteer pointed to a dump – plastics bottles, rags, bags etc that resembled a hillock – which had been pulled out from the choked up drains.
Also, a perennial complaint that readers of this column will know is the abuse of our beaches and coastline.
I was at the Gateway of I ndia j etty t he previous week-end to go to Mandwa. Catamaran services had just resumed (partially) post monsoon, but what seemed to be in full flow was people chucking things into the water without concern.
The collateral damage of such callousness is evident every now and then during the monsoon, when big waves lash the Marine Drive, leaving in their wake tonnes of debris, l eaving the city’s most beautiful promenade truly ugly.
The apathy of civic authorities as well citizens is fast destroying Mumbai’s beautiful beaches, ruining the city aesthetically and marring its tourism potential. This is true for the entire coastline stretch from Colaba to Vasai and by extension, of the entire country too.
As income increases and consumption patterns show an upsurge, there is bound to be a corresponding growth in garbage generation that needs to be tackled on a war footing. And at all levels.
Whether the PM’s Clean Campaign was a splendid ploy for photo-ops and brownie points remains to be seen. But cleanliness need not be linked to political affiliation or the messaging only top-down. It must also be bottom up, sideways, every which way.
A good starting point I say is going back to the lessons of your first civics class.