Who Moved my Garbage: Chennai in Action

In India, we’re often satisfied with letting go of bits and pieces of our civic rights.

Potholes on roads ? “No problem, we’ll drive around them”! Garbage dump piling up? “We’ll take a walk elsewhere”! Broken footpaths? “Wait, what are footpaths”?

Against the backdrop of the far greater challenges that we face, such issues are viewed as inconveniences and luxuries that we can make do without, rather than a more fundamental loss of rights. That’s why I’m really excited to write about a case of civic action that I was privy to, in which a government body acted surprisingly swiftly and thoroughly.

Garbage trouble

Opposite my house in Chennai lies a garbage bin, where residents of our locality dispose of their household waste. The bin fills up through the day, until a garbage truck comes by in the morning and empties it.

Enter, the crusaders

My mother, a caped crusader in her own right, decided to do something about it. After making a few enquiries in the area, she was told eventually to report the issue to the Chennai Corporation (phone number 1913). And here’s where the love story starts — it turns out that the Chennai Corporation works quite professionally.

Chennai Corporation Helpline (credit The Hindu)
A JCB Loader, incase you don’t know what they are

Customary 10k foot analysis

I found the entire series of events to be quite impressive. Prompt response, thorough execution and humility to boot — the government officials were soft-spoken and insisted that they were only doing their duty. And all of this to tackle a problem which in days gone by would’ve been dismissed as something that one had to learn to live with. I sure hope this is the new norm, and not a reflection of a particularly zealous CI, or the fact that this issue occurred in a school area.

  1. Government machinery: This article was a description of how government machinery came together to fix a problem once it was identified. Such municipality-centric operations, and grievance redressal systems setup by the central government seem to be working really well by the looks of it. My naive analysis here is that the primary challenge ahead is to ensure that these bodies are allocated sufficient resources — my CI did confess that it was a struggle to put together the team and machinery that solved our issue, due to a shortage of resources and an excess of complaints.
  2. Citizens: A lot of these problems are self-inflicted. Had my neighboring hospitals/hotels not broken the rules in the first place, this issue wouldn’t have cropped up. What’s more, in the weeks following this clean-up, I find that garbage is beginning to build up all over again since people aren’t willing to place their trash inside the bin. Our ability as a community to self-police and act in the interest of the greater good, rather than for localized individual benefit is perhaps the most difficult step that remains to be taken. I worry that this equilibrium will take generations to change.
Garbage goes inside the bin!

Co-founder@Semantics3 | find me at govindc.com

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