A group of 12 people, in their mid-twenties to early-thirties cleared garbage in several localities in south Bengaluru as part of the citizen-launched “Clean Bengaluru campaign” on August 15th. Thousands of individuals from around the city had signed up in the preceding weeks on the website cleanbengaluru.com, and some NGOs joined the cause as well.
Representing Youth for Seva (YFS), one such NGO, the cleaning drive for the south zone started at 7 am from Hoskerehalli, near PESIT College. They moved on through Banashankari, Basavanagudi, JP Nagar, Jayanagar, BTM Layout and concluded at HSR Layout. Coordinating the drive was Vikshut Mundkar .
Bangaloreans Myriam Shankar and Ajesh Kumar S founded the Independence Day Clean Bengaluru campaign and got it off the ground.
They worked with a core team of over 10 members who are all professionals in the city. See here for more about the core team.
All the volunteers wore rubber gloves and masks while collecting garbage in trash bags. They were mostly visiting residential areas. After collecting the garbage, all the trash bags were kept at one location and the BBMP was informed by a text message. (The SMS mentioned the number of trash bags in the area and the location where they are left). However, Mundkar said he was not sure whether BBMP have done their job or not.
“We have not checked if the bags in any area were actually collected and we don’t know how to cross check”, said Mundkar.
The group also spoke to the residents of the respective areas on not littering the surroundings and creating some awareness. “Most people kept complaining that the slum dwellers and poor people are littering but in reality in Basavanagudi we saw so many used cups from McDonalds and Cafe Coffee Day, will poor people use this?” asked one of the volunteers. The group also faced opposition from some areas saying, “Why are you people wasting time and what are you going to achieve of this?”
However, they also got positive responses from other places and residents even joined in the cleaning, “In Kathrikuppe we had five residents, out of which some were students, joining us. In Basavangudi, two, and in JP Nagar one girl joined us in the campaign,” added Mundkar.
The youngsters were enjoying the cleaning mission. They were cracking jokes and singing Hindi movie songs to entertain themselves. But they were very disappointed by HSR Layout. There, the whole place looked littered, said Mundkar, and added that at the same time residents were simply passing the buck and not accepting that they should not litter.
“Nobody here has ever seen a BBMP van coming to collect the garbage. And of what we can see there is only one public garbage bin for six lanes or more. Thus there is garbage all over”, concluded Mundkar, disappointed. The group had thought of going to Marathahalli after this but there were no volunteers from that side so they called off the mission at HSR Layout itself.
The YFS group did not cover all the lanes and streets in the areas they visited – only the parts they thought were not clean. “We had expected a bigger turnout of volunteers but not many came, in fact we cancelled visiting some areas because nobody volunteered from there,” said M S Jagadeesha, a part time volunteer who works at Bosch as an engineer. Around 35 people had volunteered initially to join this particular group, and 12 turned up. Some even dropped out because of the swine flu scare, added Jagadeesha.
Around 24 people cleaned up Kumara Park in Seshadripuram, all of them in the age group 17-20. They were all students of Sri Bhagwan Mahavir Jain College’s Centre for Management Studies. Like elsewhere, they wore masks and gloves.
Manish Sankla, a final year BBM student, and co-founder of an NGO ‘Yuva Ignited Minds’ was one of them. These youth are very well aware about their own generation. Sankla said his group wants to create awareness about not to litter public areas. “Kids come to parks, we have to keep it clean for them.” Another group was cleaning JC Road in the meantime.
East of here, in Frazer Town, it was a family-led affair. Nandu Asrani, Director at an advertising agency in the city, was blunt. “The point is about where to throw the garbage. The habit of throwing garbage outside your house is ingrained”, he said. His mother, brother and nephew and couple of neighbours helped clean Spencer Road. “People need to get together. The ultimate goal is for each part of Bangalore to get involved”, said Asrani.
Further east, the Bangalore International School (BIS) students, parents and teachers cleaned the entire area from the school until the Hennur cross road. Anu Munga, Principal of BIS, explained, “One of the parents Myriam and her husband Ajesh are behind this campaignWhen Myriam called me and explained the project, I thought it was a great initiative. We have community projects for all students starting from Grade 1 and we took up this campaign with much enthusiasm.”
The students, their parents and all the teachers participated in the cleanliness drive. They were equipped with gloves, masks, brooms and sticks to remove litter. The garbage collected was sent away to the BBMP landfill near Hosur Bande.
The school faces a vacant stretch with some small hutments. This area, thickly shrubbed and parthenium filled, runs parallel to the tarred road that leads to Hennur cross. The usually scene of strewn plastic bags, tattered clothes and other wastes that litter such vacant sites looked clean for a change.
The adults had thoughtfully taken up cleaning this stretch, while the children had cleaned the road with gusto. One of the teachers, Derek, mentioned that the teachers intended to raze down the parthenium once the children had left.
Anu said that this will be an ongoing campaign and as a part of this drive, they intended to educate the people living in the hutments about the importance of cleanliness and hygiene.
At Sunrise Chambers , a commercial complex in Ulsoor, Myriam Shankar, her daughter Eden and the security guards collected garbage and left the bags outside the complex, for the BBMP to pick up. Myriam Shankar is a German, now living in Bangalore, with children Noah and Eden. She is married to Ajesh Kumar S, who runs a law firm in the city.
Myriam and Kumar founded the Clean Bengaluru campaign and got it off the ground with a core team of over 10 members who are all professionals in the city.
Among those who cleaned here, only Myriam wore gloves. Others used their hands. They had a bucket of water and soap ready for washing up after the clean up.
“We live in OMBR Layout. There was a quite a lot of garbage there and Myriam started cleaning that up herself about two years ago. If you need people to clean the city, you need them to show their love for the city”, said Kumar.
Kumar and Myriam appeared to be far less critical of BBMP than others. Kumar says that their biggest support was the BBMP Commissioner Bharat Lal Meena. “I’m in touch with him through SMS”, said Kumar. “Today is the birthday of our country, please help us clean the city”, he then asked two lady helpers.
At a review meeting, held that evening, Myriam noted that volunteers in some areas worked for 4-5 hours and collected anywhere between 10-30 bags of garbage. Two college students from Malleswaram reported 20 bags of trash, and garbage pickup requests were received until at least 6 pm, she said.
Taking stock and eye-openers
In a post-campaign conversation with Citizen Matters this week, Myriam claims that in all, around 4700 volunteers participated from around the city. She estimated this using the online sign-ups and from feedback emails received before and after the campaign. Citizen Matters has not independently verified this number. The garbage-map page on the Clean Bengaluru website recorded over 40 locations in the city where there was some activity or other.
The lessons from the Independence Day effort? One is that there is absolute lack of awareness on using dustbins, notes Myriam. “A lot of people complained that there are not enough dustbins, but we found that places with the most dustbins were filthy and littered”, she says. She cites Bal Bhavan (Cubbon Park) and the JP Nagar III Phase mini-forest adjacent to Bannerghatta Road as examples, where dustbins were nearly empty and yet litter was lying all over.
We need to start from scratch”, says Myriam, referring to the need to raise a fundamental level of awareness in people that they must use dustbins. The second lesson, she adds, is that where larger groups of volunteers went (10-plus people), they got positive responses from residents and onlookers. In some cases, citizens joined in. (This is also noted at the beginning of this report covering the south zone).
A clean Bengaluru? That’s a long way to go, but on 15th August, at least some corners of troubled Bengaluru were dirt free and brimming with fresh ideas. And some volunteers were clearly not in it for a short-term boost to their altruistic egos or do-gooding instincts. “This is not just for a day, we want this to continue”, says Sankla, the management student.