Subtly and swiftly an anonymous group of volunteers has been giving untidy corners of the city a neat look. By M.A. Siraj
Bangalore’s garbage issue is back in the headlines and heaps of waste are raising the stink again. But a citizens’ initiative has been quietly lending a helping hand in cleaning up corners tainted with garbage. Over the last six months, the good Samaritans who have grouped themselves under self-deprecating title “The Ugly Indians” (TUI) have fixed up nearly 300 spots with their silent and direct hands-on action.
Garbage piled up on street corners lends the city a messy look that no one would like to associate with. It offends public sensitivities, shocks the aesthetes, can be harmful for pedestrians, impedes traffic, degrades civic infrastructure, invites dogs, rodents and insects and above all speaks of the apathy of civic authorities, citizens’ indifference and people’s helplessness. A little prodding by groups dedicated to putting the sheen back into the grumpy corners can evoke voluntary action from citizens. TUI, an anonymous citizen initiative, took up the cause of fixing up such black spots as a pilot project in 22 wards in the city last year under project nGOG (‘No Garbage on Ground’ or Kasa Muktha Nela). The work was taken up across all kinds of wards i.e., slums, posh areas, middle class residential localities, core commercial areas and localities with mixed populace. The team banked on the possibility of mobilising the affected people, taking the help of corporators and creating awareness among the citizens about voluntary action.
Results are there for everyone to see. Sample the following:
Black spot: Vijaya Bank, 3rd Main, Sanjaynagar (Ward 19)
A vacant plot had turned into an eyesore with unchecked dumping of garbage. Cattle roamed free there. The pavement slabs were irregularly placed and were hazardous for anyone venturing to negotiate them.
After spotfixing: Garbage has been cleared. A few flowerpots with cycus plants adorn the vacant plot. It has been fenced with barbed wire and limestone pillars. Neatly-joined smoother slabs and inlets for storm drain have added to the look. A raised culvert wall acts as a bench for wearied pavement walkers.
Black spot: Krishna Temple corner, CMH Road, Hoysalanagar (Ward 80).
A festering pile of garbage just outside the compound wall of a garage had been making the passersby thumb their noses since long. Food leftovers, rotten fruits and thermocole packings lay amid the heap, often wafting across the commercial artery.
After spotfixing: The compound wall has been repaired with upper edges raised into a wavy pattern, pavement slabs were organised, a grass bed was created at the entrance of the garage, a stone bench erected just underneath the compound wall. Edge-binding cement slabs were alternately painted in yellow and white. The snug corner is now coveted by the men, women and children waiting for buses, to stand by the compound wall. The neat rows of erect bricks lure a few to even squat for a while.
Black spot: Church Street, Shantalanagar (Ward 111)
A transformer cage at a street corner had turned into a garbage dumping spot for everyone on the street famous for its eateries. Utter disorder prevailed with mesh partitions and discarded police pickets lying in an untidy heap.
After spotfixing: Small retaining brick wall now holds the mesh partitions in place. Edge stones have been painted in yellow and black colours. Street furniture like traffic signs and lamp posts have received a fresh coat of paint.
Black spot: Bombay Tailors, Manorayanapalya, R.T. Nagar (Ward 33).
A triangular BBMP plot meant to serve as a small park at the junction of two roads had become notorious for dumping debris. Stray dogs and cattle always lay in wait for fresh supplies of kitchen waste from surrounding houses.
After spotfixing: Debris has been carted away. Rows of ornamental plants lend the corner a bewitching look. The low, moss-ridden, sandstone fencing has been painted with white and saffron colour. A row of stone benches has been erected along the compound wall. The residents are happy to see the place turning a corner.
TUI has been partnering with several NGOs to identify black spots, enlist volunteers and get into action to restore tidiness and serenity to corners that have suffered neglect and have turned into convenient dumping ground for garbage or as urinals. And to boot, all at zero cost to the BBMP.
Though no one from TUI was willing to speak to this scribe, Bengaluru Need You, an NGO (headed by Rajeev Gowda) that partnered with it in fixing 12 of the 22 black spots, says they worked with the corporator of the ward, identified the pattern of the garbage, studied the pick-up time for garbage trucks and moved with a force of volunteers to clean up the place.
The cost of fixing a spot ranged from Rs. 5,000 to 15,000, mainly for materials such as paint, cement, bricks and plants. Most labour was contributed by the citizens and BBMP employees. Says Varun from Bengaluru Needs You, more than the funds, the task required a willingness to render the spot a clean look and solve problems by invoking all stakeholders. Varun says that of the 12 spots fixed in league with TUI, nine have retained their snug look and refurbished status.
An anonymous contact from the TUI puts the success rate at 90 per cent. “Some fixes don’t sustain for reasons beyond our control, especially when the contractor or corporator is not fully supportive,” he says in an email.
According to the emailed response, “There are thousands of Bangaloreans who come out and work unconditionally for their city. There is tremendous satisfaction in working silently solving real problems, and the thrill of solving decades-old civic problems is hard to explain. Unfortunately we only hear the voices of those who talk and protest. The TUI volunteers want only their work to do the talking.”
The moonh bund, kaam chaloo (lips tight, but get into action) style of TUI has won accolades from all sections of society. Thanks to the project nGOG, dumps that had persisted for decades have been consigned to the wastebin of history of the areas they had come to be identified with.
Even without disclosing their identity, the email response from the TUI says, Kasa Muktha Bengaluru is well within reach of citizens, given their resolve to join hands in cleaning up their surroundings. It does not require any major systemic change too. It can be accomplished with minimal investment but by generous hand-holding.
Those interested in joining the TUI can contact it on email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.theuglyindian.com
(The author can be reached at email@example.com)