Spot-Fixing to Clean Up the City?

I came across an article that talks about a brilliant initiative taken up in Bangalore by a group called ‘The Ugly Indian’ that has shouldered the responsibility to clean the dirt and filth in the city.

We just need to look around, and we will find dirt and filth all around us. People spitting and throwing garbage on the roads, public places, bus stops, gardens and parks is a common sight. No wonder that in 2009, the environment minister Jairam Ramesh said, “Our cities are the dirtiest in the world. If there is a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India will win it hands down.” Is it that we have learnt to live with the garbage around and have got used to the nauseating smell? While many of us must have, ‘The Ugly Indian’ has definitely not!

The author writes:

The Ugly Indian (TUI) in Bangalore has over 100 committed citizens, some in senior corporate jobs. So fed up were they of visible filth that they decided to do something about it. Every week, they came armed with face masks, gloves, buckets, broomsticks and mops and cleaned up various areas in the Garden City. Already, some 100 spots have been freed of garbage, paan stains, death traps and evidence of urination.

The philosophy of TUI is: Kaam chalu mooh bandh (Stop Talking, Start Doing). They simply use smart, low-cost ideas to tackle filth. Take Church Street, bang in the middle of Bangalore. One kilometer of it had some 10 garbage dumps and 10 walls used for urination. TUI put 150 terabins and 10 Wonderloos (ecofriendly waterless toilets) which were cleaned twice a day by sweepers. Each spot, they say, costs less than Rs 300 per head to maintain. Their philosophy is that if cleanliness is made a normal status, people will follow suit. That’s why airports and high-end places aren’t littered, while streets are. It all lies in our attitude. And this can overturn the world’s best systems, be it Indian-dominated suburbs abroad such as Southall (London), Edison (New Jersey) or Little India (Singapore).

While clean-up missions have often been taken up by corporates driven by Corporate Social Responsibility, The Ugly Indian group is completely anonymous. Rather than pointing out the faults in the system, the low-key group members have taken upon themselves to fix and renovate the system. There is no finger-pointing, period. Instead of cribbing about the filth and blaming the lower-rung civil staff, the Ugly Indian has been busy “Spotfixing” in Bangalore.

Another city which has taken cleanliness to great levels by a community-led initiative is Surat. The author says:

After the devastating plague of 1994, this city of diamond merchants was so spruced up that it has attained the tag of one of the cleanest cities in India. M K Das, Surat’s municipal commissioner, says that in order to get citizens involved, a Society Anudan Scheme was started wherein societies approach the municipal corporation to allow them to maintain cleanliness of areas under their purview.

There are many such areas that one needs to focus on in order to make the city a clean and healthy place to live in. In our fourth edition of the Design Public Conclave, one of the four challenge tracks is ‘Smarter Cities’, by which me mean cities that ensure cleaner surroundings, smoother traffic flows, regular power supply and the tracking of crime. Stay tuned for more on ‘Smarter Cities’.

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