Towards cleanliness as a way of life
India is a nation of many paradoxes. We have highly talented people; we have very average people. We have very ambitious people; we have very lazy people. We have people who earn money in millions; we have people who live in real poverty.
However, there is one thing that is hugely common to all Indians -- to treat cleanliness as something very personal, but as far as public consumption is concerned, we tend to behave as if it is nobody's business. For example, this author has seen some of the most educated not clean toilets properly in the best of airports. They happily throw cigarette butts in public and even spit in public. If anyone thought that such behavior is class-specific, he or she needs to revise his her opinion totally. People of all classes, communities and castes indulge in making any place dirty.
So, what can be done? It is simple to sit in ivory towers and talk something or write something. Any number of conferences, workshops, seminars have been conducted, but with only some improvement in pockets. However, we need to take things very seriously and do something. We need to bring in appropriate policies or rules or laws to get this going.
Otherwise, there is a grave danger that our cities will simply become filthy urban jungles, with very little good air to breathe, or clean water to drink.
How to do all this? Firstly, we all need self-discipline. We cannot afford to relax even a little bit. This self-discipline has to start with government intervention and action on a mass scale. For example, in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, plastics is totally banned. Shop keepers do not have the power to give a single carry home bag to any customer. In certain other places, the carry home bags made of plastic are charged. But people, still buy such plastic bags. The only solution is to totally ban them. Alternatively, the tax on Aluminium vessels and brass vessels can be made totally tax free, so that this consumption will increase manifold, and the people can be made to compulsorily buy such vessels, to store any commodity, or take parcels of food from hotels, and so on.
Secondly, we need to have a fine imposed on every single person who spits on the road, or otherwise makes roads dirty. The traffic police can be supported by uniformed unemployed youth, who will be paid a percentage of such fines as their salary every day. The cost of the vehicles given to such youth, and petrol expenses can be borne by some Corporate organization, as part of what is now called as Corporate Social Responsibility. Since the Government itself would collect this fine, people will have some fear of the law. Of course, there will be several doubts in the minds of people, whether such fines can be collected, and whether they will not tamper with individual freedom.
Far from it. The public have no right to make public places dirty.
Thirdly, all public parks, railway stations, bus stands, and bus stations should have public toilets, that should be manned and operated by Corporate houses on a "pay and use" basis. There are such toilets, but the railway stations in most places, do not have such facilities. It is high time that someone does something about this. If this step is taken, people will at least stop making the stations dirty by using trains that stop at stations. Parks in some places have such toilets, but care should be taken to get this facility in place in all parks, particularly in public places.
Thanks to private entrepreneurship, in India's metros, and even smaller towns, there is this concept of "gated communities", where all facilities are provided. In fact, such places are all very well maintained, and are very clean indeed. Even the swimming pools are very clean. But all this is for the very rich, and the new rich classes, fueled by the IT sector boom.
But the slums just outside many an oasis, are just in shambles, without even the basic minimum sanitation and water facilities. The Government should bring in a legislation, by taxing the residents of such palatial houses to pay a monthly tax, which will be compulsorily used by a local trust, to provide some basic sanitation and water facilities to the slum people. If the effluent treatment facilities are extended to such slums within a radius of one kilometer, the slum people will have far better standards of living.
Fourthly, it is also essential that we, the public, also care for such people. If all the IT people contribute just rupees one hundred per month, it will be possible to build water tanks in many localities, where water can be distributed from. Such water can be distributed free of cost to the poor people. In a way, this will make the rich more socially conscious. In a similar fashion, through voluntary contributions, people should themselves take the initiative of making and maintaining the public toilets clean in cities. Merely expecting the municipality to do it, may not help at all.
Fifthly, through modern technologies, in certain places in India, even human waste, kitchen waste, animal waste and so on, are converted into bio gas. This is a big plus, as the environment is safe, and clean. These technologies should be further strengthened and made available to the public at large, for public good.
The CNG buses installed in New Delhi, for instance, are simply superb. Such buses should be provided everywhere in India. We need to take a comprehensive view of the entire subject of cleanliness. In Singapore, for example, waste water is treated and used, even as drinking water. If Singapore can do it, why can't we? We ought to explore all options with an open mind.
It also need to be realized that we as a nation cannot progress, unless we have mass movements. If everyone, right from the Prime Minister to the ordinary common man were to talk about cleanliness, there will positively be some change. Cleanliness does not mean, we keep our houses and gardens clean. This is just the first step. But the wider world has to also be clean.
The schools and colleges have many lessons for cleanliness. In fact, even students chip in, with cleanliness drives. Every single child should learn the importance of cleanliness. However, there seems to be some slackness only at the later ages. We all need to be worried about cleanliness, and do something about it. It is always better late then never.
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