Babus and Netas often complain that our citizens do not have any 'civic sense' and that we have created the infrastructure but people do not take care of it. This is a half-truth. We often do not have governing mechanisms in place to take care of our urban infrastructure on everyday basis.
Lets take an example of littering on the streets and the ‘Clean India Campaign’ or ‘Swachchh Bharat Abhiyaan’ of the Government of India. During the launch of the campaign we were reminded of our crucial role and a lot of people picked up a broom to ‘Clean India’. What is missing now? When a citizen, inspired by the high morale of the ‘Clean India campaign’, looks for a dustbin to throw garbage, it is the job of the city government to make sure that the dustbin is in its place. When a dustbin is in place, it is more effective to tell the citizen to use it. Citizens can exercise their ‘civic sense’ of not littering only when the government is doing its job of putting the dustbins in place. Here, the 'dustbin' is just a symbol of the solid waste management and public sanitation system of the city.
One of the objectives of the Clean India campaign is 100% collection and scientific disposal and recycling of municipal solid waste. In most of our cities, the solid waste management and public sanitation is in shambles, especially in the public spaces. In many less-privileged parts of Ahmedabad streets are not cleaned regularly. In the more-privileged parts where they are cleaned regularly, the garbage is burnt openly. Open burning of street waste is practiced widely in Ahmedabad – sometimes right in front of the municipal officials’ residences. Open burning of waste generates toxic fumes that are harmful for human bodies. Generally the waste is burnt in the morning hours, which coupled with the emissions from the morning peak hours of traffic creates deadly air that all the commuters breath while going to work.
It has been six months since the ‘Clean India campaign’ was launched but we have not seen many changes on the ground level. The campaign also rightfully stresses on public sanitation and building of toilets in every house in the country. How is our municipal corporation going to ensure that toilets will be built in every house whether they are in slums or elsewhere? Public toilets are generally not built (especially for women) and when built, they are not maintained properly. As citizens, we understand that it is a mammoth task to clean our cities. But did this campaign inspire or shake up our governing agencies to change their ways and becoming serious about cleaning our cities?
There are two important duties of being a citizen in a democracy. We are often made guilty of the first one of not exercising ‘civic sense’. But we completely overlook the other one – making the democratic government accountable. It is time we start making our (local) government accountable for ‘Clean India’ before we get gyan on improving our civic sense.
( 27th April, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)