Saturday 28 May 2022
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Will Bharat Ever Be Swachh?

This morning I saw a young couple on the ITO Bridge over the Yamuna. They stopped over the river while driving to their office. The lady threw, very reverentially, a plastic bag full of flowers and other ingredients of some Puja at home into the river. Devoted Hindu, though young, and their reverential throw of the package in the Yamuna is a fitting answer to the detractors of our religion and rituals, so I thought. I am rather clumsy with my phone’s camera. In the confusion instead of clicking their reverential immersion of the Puja package, I ended up clicking myself in the dark interior of my car! The possible poster of two young devotees on Twitter has to wait for some such spectacle in the future.

On second thought, I felt perhaps it was divine ordain that my camera cheated me. Had I posted their photo with the number plate of motorcycle clearly visible, the obstruction called the National Green Tribunal might have taken umbrage. Didn’t the court ask anybody desiring to immerse their Puja packages in the Yamuna to deposit Rs 5,000 first? The couple might have missed it out since they were in a hurry to reach office on time. But can one find fault with the couple? There was no collector anywhere near. After all, the ITO Yamuna Bridge, covered with net walls, has few places where the net has been loosely tied to facilitate the religious ritual of immersion, the concluding part of our religious ceremony. To facilitate collection, all one has to do is place a fee collector at such openings. In fact, the government might even consider auctioning such opening on the bridge to the highest bidder.

When the nets were being installed
When the nets were being installed

One may ask if it is not advisable to seal such windows on the net. I doubt it since only a few days before the incident that increased my faith in my religious practices the bridge was repainted with the decision to charge the jiziya from those immersing their Puja packages from there. Certainly the tender of repainting omitted to mention sealing the windows for some serious bureaucratic reason. It might be for augmenting the coffers with Rs 5,000 against each immersion or helping the street urchins who wait there to render help in immersion to earn some pocket money.

My thoughts were jolted by the sudden arrival of an empty packet of chips getting stuck briefly on my car’s windshield. The young lady in the car ahead of me evidently had just finished her breakfast before reaching the office. And people say Indians do not work hard! The wrapper that rested on my car windshield is an evidence to the contrary. The young lady did not even take a leisurely breakfast before rushing for office.

Quiet flows the Yamuna, or does it?
Quiet flows the Yamuna, or does it?

My idle thoughts now brought me back to reality. What better way to consume reality than to read the newspaper! The front page of the newspaper on my lap smiled with a wakeup call.  It told me to wake up the somnambulating Prime Minister of India. Nearly 71% of respondents in an online poll said that the Swachh Bharat initiative failed to improve cleanliness in the past one year.

When such polls are conducted and the newspapers write about the result, it must be true. People must have experienced the same. I tried to recall if I did hurt the cleanliness drive. As far as our society premises are concerned, these are reasonably clean, occasional dog excreta aside. The dogs cannot be faulted for that. The stray ones – our society has a policy of nurturing as many stray dogs as the number of residents – follow the well-kept pet dogs and use the same spots for relieving themselves. The owners of the pets, some of them thinkers and journalists, question when we cannot get rid of the stray dogs and their egesta, why we should bother about the pet dogs. After all, the pets are better fed and produce better quality stool!

As far as domestic garbage is concerned, we have collectors coming to our doorstep every morning. Maybe when we miss the garbage collector, I quietly dump it outside my housing society gate. But that is where many others put their garbage, even those living across. If such garbage pile up, the fault indeed lies with the Centre. Even the survey confirmed what had been my belief. The online poll has brought to light “the big gap in capacity of municipal bodies, which are primarily responsible for collection, transportation and treatment of both solid and liquid waste in areas”. My conscience was clear before I entered my office.

When Prime Minister called for a Swachh Bharat, he should have planned the gaps mentioned in the online poll. After all, he is the repository of nation’s money. It is well known that municipal bodies are bankrupt. Did we not see how in Delhi non-payment of salary saw piling up of garbage on the streets? Was it not the responsibility of the Centre to fund the shortfall? Well, this could have been routed through the sovereign State government of the city. Then the money could also be used for educating the garbage collectors on how to offer their services. Nobody can fault the present State government in Delhi in not having any idea on advertising campaigns. Unfortunately, the originator of Swachh Bharat idea never walks the talk.

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Sugato Hazra
Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi
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