Mumbai:Whose city is it anyway?
It is in human nature to escape from difficult situations by conveniently placing the blame on others. A glaring example of this human tendency can be seen in our very own city. Once while travelling on a local train on the central line, I was engaged in a conversation with a woman who suddenly frowned at the squatters along the railway tracks. “These uncouthlow class people…”, she uttered in exasperation while disposing an empty packet of chips out the moving train. “They have no civic sense at all”, she continued as she flung a tissue paper out the train after having wiped her hands clean. The railway lines of Mumbai speak volumes not only about the plight of the poor lot with no public urinal or sanitation facilities, but also of the civic sense of us Mumbaikars. So, who do we blame?“The low class people who reside on the suburbs?”
During the dog poop menace in South Bombay that saw the front pages of many newspapers, strict laws were laid down to ensure that the owners, while walking their dogs, took responsibilityof keeping the pavement clear of poop. It was precisely during that time when well-known journalist Tavleen Singh protested against the fine saying that while the entire city litters, why is she being targeted? (Reported by Mumbai Mirror). Now policemen, instead of directly penalisinglaw breaking IAS officers and other high profile residents of the southern part of Mumbai, are found distributing pamphlets in their neighbourhood.Who is to blame? The rich from the city?
Rich or poor, the answer from every Mumbaikar is unanimous -“The infamous BMC”.
With the Post boxes turning into litter boxes, it is but appropriate to ask ‘where are they disappearing?’ Some may argue that the advent of the internet and courier services have nearly wiped out their existence leaving no room for their use. But an unsaid and often unheard part of the counter argument exists too. “People like us who do not have the privilege of using expensive services cannot even avail of these cheap means of posting letters because people spit on it. Neither the BMC nor the head office for postal services takes care of these post boxes”, says an aggrieved hawker at Vikhroli. In 2007, BMC came up with trained Marshals who penalised those caught littering in public spaces. Within a few weeks, a bench of high court restrained them from doing their job on grounds of corruption among the officials and bad behaviour towards the public. But another bench allowed the marshals to continue their work as they gave cleanliness and health greater preference over trivial tiffs between the marshals and the public. Again the question of who needs to take the blame surfaces. Who do we blame? The BMC or the Police or the Bombay High Court?
The dumping ground at Chembur has reached a height that probably none of the buildings in the entire area has. A local from Chembur estimates the mountain of a dump as 19 storeys high that loosely translates to 140 feet. Despite repeated complaints from the residents regarding health hazards and an unbearable stench, nothing much has been done about it. Incidentally, BMC had requested the Airport Authority of India to allow them to raise the height to 164 feet. Citizen forums have been actively voicing their protest against the request. The forums want the dumping ground to be taken to some other site. Having said that, the river most talked about after the fateful deluge on the 26th of July, 2005, Mithi, needs a special mention too. The BMC and MMRDA have spent over Rs 500 cr and Rs 700 cr over restoration that involves de-silting and building a retaining wall. Yet the river sees illegal encroachments sprawled across its banks, let alone the diversion of the river by 90 degrees that has almost destroyed its natural ecological balance. The Bombay high court had ordered the removal of debris from the river but nothing noteworthy has been done so far. As one crosses Bandra, it becomes difficult to believe that the disease causing, heavily littered nullah is actually a river. Again, who do we blame for the shameful death of the Mithi River? The Industries that dump solid wastes and effluentsor the BMC or the government?
It’s time we stopped blaming each other. Though, we pride ourselves on being Mumbaikars with an undaunting spirit, yet fail to take cognizance of the impending doom. The sense of belongingness to the city which is so intense otherwise, seems lost when it comes to keeping the city clean. If we continue placing blames, the list would become endless with no possible remedy. As much convoluted and complex as the entire situation may seem to us, the solution to this huge problem of litter in Mumbai is actually quite simple. It starts from our very home. Instead of finding faults with the government or the BMC or the police and so forth, we must learn to correct our own selves. It is of paramount importance to find solutions to the problems that we all collectively face. There have been classic examples in the past where students, employees of certain companies or the public have held voluntary campaigns as well as supported BMC in its effort to make Mumbai clean.
If BMC has rules, we must follow them irrespective of the societies we belong to. If the BMC does not fulfil its duties, we must report the issue and ensure that it functions well. The least we can do is participate in the BMC elections and vote for the right candidate who according to us has been efficient over the years. Availing the privileges of RTI in this regard to know if the corporations are addressing important issues can go a long way too. Pushing the government to set up cow proof dustbins in trains and BEST buses, build public urinals, impose penalty with respect to littering public spaces etc is our responsibility. Powerful media such as newspapers and news channels should be made use of to bring such problems to the fore, thus keeping citizens and officials aware of the situation.
And lastly, doing our bit as individuals by disposing garbage only in dust bins, not spitting, educating ourselves and inculcating civic sense by conducting campaigns and regular clean ups in collaboration with public agencies and NGOs would help make our Mumbai, the city of dreams, in the true sense of the term.