Filth begets Filth, UnSwachh Bharat — Part 1
India’s Filth, Cleanliness Campaigns, Mass Leadership Failures
Alongside this post, try reading
- Mohan Guruswamy’s insightful article on — Why India is still filthy — 104 years after Gandhi.
- Municipal level inaction in India, India’s Air Pollution Crisis and
- A tourist’s recent account of Indian cities (India is Filthy).
This post doesn’t even touch on air or noise pollution, which are a whole other set of unaddressed problems, that Indian cities face.
Blessed with Natural Beauty and Resources
Gigantic Mountain ranges, beautiful rivers, the most fertile agricultural land in the world, a rich cultural heritage…India’s got it all. And yet, no country abuses it’s natural beauty the way India does.
Rivers of Trash, Streets of Trash. Every river, Every parking lot, Every sidewalk is a future trash can
This video below is what used to be a beautiful, flowing river in my home town in Faridabad, Haryana. It almost made me throw up — seeing it in this state. Part 2 of this post discusses what one should do, when confronted with such sights.
Sewage, Sewage everywhere
Mountains of Trash
Flying in to New Delhi, one is greeted with the sight of this mountain in the middle of flat land. No — it’s not a mountain range, but an out of control landfill, with vultures and other feeders, constantly hovering above it. And this is just one of 3 such landfills that the Delhi-NCR region boasts.
Compare this trash mountain, situated in the capital of a country that can easily boast of owning the world’s most majestic mountain range.
What happened to Swachh Bharat?
Swachh Bharat started out with a lot of enthusiasm and hope. And Modi is to be credited with bringing this issue centerstage.
Toilets were indeed built on a large scale in every state across the country. And some states are doing well with the upkeep as well. The jury is still out, but at least in this one aspect (open defecation), India has seen a marked improvement.
However, in several other cleanliness measures, there is a marked lack of improvement. Some cities and states are actually even filthier than when Modi took office.
This filth is, of course, a function of state and city governments — an issue that is discussed in this post.
Some Encouraging Signs
Firstly, this level of change is possible, as can be seen in this before and after picture of a river in Phillipines (see this Quora thread )
- Open Defecation is becoming a thing of the past. Swachh Bharat DID build enough toilets, to address the open defecation issue. Certainly, a commendable effort by both State and National governments. Although, the same cannot be said for open urination, which still occurs on a large scale, due to lifelong habits.
- Bans on Diwali Firecrackers (only partially worked), Bans on Stubble Burning (also partially successful). The realization is part of the debate now — and every year, more progress seems to be made in the right direction.
- Landfill fires in New Delhi. Open Mountains of trash that regularly light up and add about 10% to Delhi’s air pollution. Again, the recognition is encouraging and whether these disappear in the next few years, remains to be seen.
- Several River Clean Up Efforts have been budgeted and planned, but the work still remains undone.
- School Kids are constantly conducting cleanliness drives, putting Indian adults to shame.
- National Awareness — The realization that Indian cities, Indian rivers are filthy (easily the filthiest in the world), and that Indian air is the most polluted in the world, has come into sharp focus. Will this drive any action? A recent .
Learning from the Japanese
Japanese soccer fans made the news recently, during the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Not for creating ruckus (as soccer fans are infamous for), but for picking up all the trash left (by other spectators) inside a Qatar stadium.
They simply cannot stand to see littered public places. Imagine 1.4 billion Indians with this simple mindset change. There won’t be a piece of trash to be found on Indian streets!
India’s G20 Leadership 2023
As an outcome of India’s increasing GDP, India has earned the right to lead and host the next G20 summit in New Delhi. Patriotic Indians haven’t stopped bragging about this, since it was announced.
One only hopes that flying into New Delhi, World Leaders will be greeted, not with a mountain of trash, but with the Lotus Temple and green surroundings.
In Conclusion — 75 years of Leadership Failure — Political, Business, Celebrity Leadership Failures
What I have never understood is how prominent Indians, in a position to affect change, have been largely silent.
A rich, local businessman can easily adopt a road or a locality, as is common in many countries. A popular Bollywood star could be spending their weekends on cleanliness campaigns instead of another photo shoot.
Today, another billionaire Indian will drive past this, and not consider it their problem.
Another thousand students will be driven to school, with their school buses passing by roadsides littered with trash.
There’s no such thing as a pleasant, relaxing drive in any Indian city. At every junction, your senses will be assaulted with malodors, polluted air, incessant honking, vehicles aiming to run each other ever.
To Modi’s credit, toilets have been built in almost every state, ensuring the end of open defecation.
However, city infrastructure remains largely abysmal (in fact COMPLETELY abysmal).
With the exception of a handful of cities, almost every Indian city looks and smells like an open sewer and an open landfill.
Some concerned citizens, especially high school students, show an active level of involvement. That these kids are being forced to do the municipality’s work, is shameful in itself. And of course, it is not a solution.
A recent launch of PM Modi’s LIFE (Lifestyle for environment) initiative, highlights everything that is grossly wrong with the problem solvers in India. They are trying to boil the ocean, when all that is needed is warming small cups of water in every neighborhood. No leader is doing the bare minimum, but every leader is attempting to do the utmost ridiculous maximum, which has a zero chance of success.
Some Solutions (and one silver bullet guaranteed to work)
Part 2 of this post will discuss simple, active citizenry solutions.