The Rare And Precious Dustbins Of India

02/09/2016 9:38 PM IST | Updated 09/09/2016 8:39 AM IST

From afar, Sharmaji strikes you as a pretty ordinary person. And why, he is the quintessential Indian middle-class man -- the lone breadwinner for his family of six, with a stable job, a decent, rented home and an ever-expanding waistline. But what sets him apart from everybody he knows is his absolute and unparalleled love for street food. When not at the job, you are likely to find Sharmaji relishing his plate of chaat or his serving of aloo tikki. If you wait a little longer, you are also likely to find him walk to the end of the market, as he looks for a bin to throw his paper plate into. Later, he flings it toward his side of the street. "Hail Swachh Bharat," he thinks sarcastically to himself.

The idea of a clean India was bound to strike a chord with the masses, as for once a scheme meant to deal with their immediate surroundings. However, two years down the line, most streets and public places retain their confetti of litter.

In India, it is said that "Every two miles the water changes, every four miles the speech." Nothing to a similar effect can be said about public dustbins.

A walk down the Arabian Sea shore at Juhu or Chowpatty, or through the busy streets of Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, serve as a summary of all the difference Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has made. Streets are lined with posters depicting a smiling Prime Minister above the campaign logo, but look below and dustbins are few, overflowing and far, far between. Pavements present you with a plethora of exotic wrappings, bills and stickers while walls are an art lesson in shades of red.

Streets are swept every morning, though. You will be accompanied on your morning walks by newly airborne dust particles, which will have settled back into place by the time you are back; this exercise is repeated day after day. Residential areas are largely free of bins, though there do exist local open garbage dumps, where the rubbish inside is a fraction of that outside them.

In India, it is said that "Every two miles the water changes, every four miles the speech." Nothing to a similar effect can be said about public dustbins.

There is no justification for careless littering in public places. But not providing even the option for civic behaviour for long distances is tantamount to testing the patience of the public. Public cleanliness might not be the largest part of the Swachh Bharat mission, but is a part nevertheless, and deserves to not remain as untouched as it has been hitherto.

It is nobody's wish to litter the very street they live on. Neither is it anyone's dream to carry a banana peel for miles before catching a distant glimpse of an overflowing bin. Public dustbins are a vastly understated commodity -- a fact that must be duly recognized.

Until it is, though – "Hail Swachh Bharat"!

Ganesh Chaturthi in India

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