Now that it had yielded results, it sounded less irritating, the recorded message which played on a loop, disturbing the early morning calm “ Nagarpalika aapke dwar…..shehar ko saaf suthra banane ke liye………”( the municipal committee is at your doorsteps to clean up your town). Suddenly everything fell into place, it all started making sense. Small things which I had noticed in the recent past and others which I had missed.
A few months back when I walked to a friend’s house I had noticed that the distinct stink of cow dung was less intense as I passed a few dairies located on the way. The drains which were usually clogged with animal waste were cleaner, the flow smoother.
A few weeks ago I was standing outside my nursing home when the garbage van passed. and the enthusiasm with which the young men were doing their work was surprising. After commending them on their job, on an impulse I asked if someone would remove the junk which was blocking the open drain next to our gate. Very dutifully, one of them said, “ Haanji woh bhi karenge, kyon nahin karenge. Naali wale safai karamchari alag hain Mein apne supervisor ko bol doonga” ( Yes of course it will be done. There are separate employees to clean the drains. I will bring it to my supervisor’s notice) His attitude and assurance was impressive enough, very different from the earlier safai karamcharis who showed up once a year around Diwali demanding their ill deserved bakhsheesh. I was further surprised when a few days later I found that the muck had actually been removed from the drain.
When I had visited a nearby city for an early morning swim recently the unchecked littering was noticeable. Rotten vegetables and fruits dumped on the road, plastic and cardboard packaging strewn around, colourful plastic bags floating in the early morning breeze. That is when it first occurred to me that in sharp contrast my own ‘town’ ( the only ‘urban’ term I can use technically!) was spotless when I left. The roads freshly swept, neat piles of refuse waiting to be loaded on to the garbage van.
I had missed missing the hordes of stray animals though. Monkeys visited regularly and we were still privy to the occasional dogfights but the holy cows and unholy pigs were missing from action. No longer seen rummaging through the garbage and drinking from drains. I tried to remember the last time a pig had entered our premises and ravaged the vegetable patch, burying itself in the cool soil to escape the summer heat. It had been a common occurrence in the past. A nuisance for which we had no solution, we have to keep our gates open for the ‘bimar’ and hence can’t avoid the occasional beast. I did recall spotting some coloured pigs though . At that time I had thought they had taken part in the household’s Holi celebration. Now I knew better .
It was all there, in its full glory, in the morning paper. A recognition by the central government for a job well done. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), under the aegis of the Swachh Bharat Mission had announced the results of the Swachh Survekshan 2018 last week. This is a state initiative to instil a competitive spirit about cleanliness at ground level. A total of 4203 urban local bodies had been surveyed collecting data from three sources – service level progress, direct observation and citizen feedback. The localities had been categorised on the basis of population and the awards were given in each category for cleanest city, solid waste management, citizen feedback and innovation and best practices. Gharaunda, my town won the award in the last mentioned category. The news was specially noteworthy because it was the sole winner in the entire state of Haryana. While I gloated over this commendable achievement, a part of me felt ashamed that I had not appreciated the cleanliness till it screamed from the front page of a newspaper. Why are we so busy nitpicking that we miss the positive changes happening around us?
When I read that innovative means were used to solve the stray pig problem I imagined some advanced microchip buried in the hog’s rear to trace his movement. It was amusing to discover that the innovations were not high tech or expensive. They were basic strategies demonstrating resourcefulness, out of box thinking and willingness to work within constraints. The solution of stray pigs roaming the streets was an example of such ingenuity. Earlier it had been difficult to fix responsibility because no one would own up that the pigs were theirs. The authorities started sprinkling colours on stray pigs and followed them to their homes. The owners were then penalised for letting them loose. Similarly the problem of animal waste blocking the drains was solved by sending committee vans to collect cow dung from dairies. To prevent open defecation usage of toilets was encouraged. It was noted that people had taken subsidy for building toilets but were using the space for other purposes. A survey was conducted and action was taken against the defaulters.
The fact is, whether it is colour coding pigs or making people use toilets, it doesn’t take much to keep a city clean. Just the willingness to find a way and the perseverance to see it through. Ordinary measures can yield extraordinary results and it seems Gharaunda ( with the soft D or otherwise) gets it!
( published as a part of my column in the Tribune on 26/5/2018)