Swachh warriors: Delhi’s unique spot-fixers fight to keep Capital clean
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Swachh warriors: Delhi’s unique spot-fixers fight to keep Capital clean

This do-it-yourself volunteer-driven movement that began in Bangalore a few years back by The Ugly Indian, an anonymous group, has spread all across the country.

delhi Updated: Jul 12, 2017 13:25 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Clean Delhi,Swachh Bharat Campaign,Swachh Delhi
The volunteers of these do- it- yourself communities -- mostly young professionals and students -- identify open garbage dumps, spots of open urination and ‘spot-fix’ them.

They do spot-fixing but it has nothing to do with cricket. Theirs is an entirely different ball game—it is about identifying and cleaning Delhi’s ugly spots, one at a time. And they -- the capital’s growing number of do-it-yourself citizens groups such as New Delhi Rising, Gurgaon Rising, We Mean to Clean, etc. -- believe that our cities are filthy because of the people and not the civic agencies.

No wonder many well-heeled men and women, who are part of these communities, can be seen on weekends with brooms, shovels, paints and brushes, removing garbage, peeling off ugly posters, and painting defaced walls.

This do-it-yourself volunteer-driven movement that began in Bangalore a few years back by The Ugly Indian, an anonymous group, has spread all across the country.

And it is making a difference.

Early morning on April 30, a group of 50 volunteers--men, women and even children--arrived at the Noida City Centre Metro Station to clean a wall at the parking that had become a urinal and dumping spot. They worked relentlessly for about five hours to transform the filthy , foul-smelling wall and footpath into a neat and clean space with artistic motifs. They wrote ‘shauchalay’ in Hindi, with an arrow pointing towards a Sulabh Shauchalya (a public toilet). The wall had become a urination spot though there is a public toilet just a few metres away.

The space below the Moolchand flyover in south Delhi after it was cleaned up.
The Moolchand flyover before it was cleaned up.

“ We believe we need to clean up our cities ourselves rather than keep cribbing about the system or the civic agencies. In our drive in Noida , we sought the help of Noida Authority, which sent four of its workers to help us clean the place. Earlier we used to clean everything ourselves but now we collaborate with the authorities. We feel such partnership with citizens and civic authorities is the best way to clean and keep our cities clean ,” says Swati Bhalla, founding volunteer of the Delhi-based We Mean To Clean, which has done spot-fixing in many parts of Delhi-NCR such as Tilak Nagar, Saket, and Janakpuri.

Talk about the abysmal record of the civic agencies in the city with Nakul B, a co-founder of New Delhi Rising, the city’s first citizen volunteers group that works to ‘restore and reclaim the city’s spaces’, and he says, “We litter the places, not the workers of civic agencies. We believe the civic agencies are overburdened and instead of blaming them, we should look inward and actively participate in cleaning our cities.” he says.

“Citizens are ruining the cities and only they can save them,” says Nakul.

Anish Bakshi , a volunteer with Gurgaon Rising , another community that organizes many spot-fixes in the Millennium City, expressed similar sentiments . “We litter and urinate just about anywhere. Our cities will never be clean unless we understand that we first need to clean up our act before blaming everyone,” he says.

Most volunteers who join these spot-fixes across Delhi and NCR are young professionals ; Nakul, for example, works with an MNC. What you will find in his car are not gadgets but a range of cleaning tools such as scrapes, metal brushes, shovels, buckets, brooms, paint, brushes and rollers. And all spot-fixes are self-funded. “ Every volunteer contributes R 200 during a spot-fix to cover the costs of tools and supplies,” says Nakul.

Unlike in the past, most of these volunteer groups are collaborating with the civic agencies through local councillors and, in most cases, the authorities are too happy to help. “There is no better way to keep our cities clean than the cooperation and participation of citizens, who need to have a sense of ownership of the city. What happens is our workers clean the city in the morning and people litter within a few hours. In fact, we are soon going to put out advertisements, seeking public participation in our efforts to clean up the city,” says Yogendra Singh Mann, spokesperson, North and East MCD.

The spruced up space in front of the Noida City Centre metro station.
The spot as it looked before.

These communities notify prospective volunteers through their Facebook pages about the time and date of an upcoming spot-fix and post photographs of ‘before-after’ images of their work.

“We work early in the morning on Sundays, and it is not always easy to get volunteers. But we are trying to ensure more action on ground by encouraging more individuals to participate. We are planning to involve school and college students in a big way,” says Anish Bakshi, a volunteer with Gurgaon Rising, which has been actively involved in cleanness drives in the Millennium City. “These drives lead to a change of attitude among people regarding their role and responsibility in keeping the city clean ,” says Bakshi.

The challenge, these volunteers say, is to maintain these spots, and these communities try to ensure that by involving the locals. “After our drive at the Metro parking wall in Noida, we engaged in a dialogue with auto-rickshaw drivers about the need to keep the place clean,” says Manish Khurana, another co-founder, We Mean To Clean. “ We have the spot marshals who regularly visit the space to keep a track,” he says.

New Delhi Rising, which has so far done about 60 spot- fixes with the help of about 1,000 volunteers in the past three years, has roped in schools such The Indian School, which sends students for these drives as part of its citizenship programme. Besides, it invites street art groups such Delhi Street Art to become part of its campaigns. “ They add a dash of style to our work”, says Nakul.

First Published: May 21, 2017 07:00 IST