The Indian Prime Minister rolled out “Swachh Bharat or Clean India Campaign” n 02 October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, with much fanfare. He has managed to draw global attention and the list of celebs supporting the campaign include Mark Zuckerberg, politicians across the spectrum, corporate leaders, film stars, legendary sporting personalities, social activists, media channels and ordinary people. Modi has sought to convert it into a public campaign rather than a government initiative. Only such an approach can lead to ushering in cleanliness as a culture and not a time bound short term project.
Almost simultaneously, I arrived in Venice, the capital city of Veneto region in Italy with an agenda to meet various waste management companies and visit their integrated facilities and waste treatment plants. My singular objective was to understand how they have approached this very wet and sticky subject over the past 30 years. I quickly realized that the administration’s achievement of demonstrating 100% efficiency in waste collection, treatment and disposal was nowhere as creditable as the fact that the locals there seemed to have 100% sensitivity and awareness about cleanliness and public hygiene. Carrying their domestic waste on bicycle to the nearest waste collection centre to deposit it personally comes naturally to them; it is not an issue of dignity in their minds. Huge emphasis has been laid on reduction andsegregation of waste at source -the EU as well as local and national administrative departments encourage lean and green methodologies by extending funding support and offering subsidies to citizens and industry. Severe penalties are imposed on households, SMEs and large factories that breach the permissible standards of quantum of waste generation and carbon emission. However none of this was achieved overnight. Indeed, it has involved a sustained effort over decades hrough social awareness campaigns, indoctrination of students in ols/colleges and proliferation of benefits of environment protection through all forms of media. The administration has been able to create an “ambassador of good living” in every house in the form of children who would correct their own parents and neighbours whenever they violated the prescribed social code of conduct.
Segregation of waste at source by disposing wet waste and dry waste in differently coloured bio-degradable plastic bags by citizens is the first. Separating recyclable waste like plastic and metals help in conserving natural resources. Exercising special care during disposal of medical waste is critical to avoid the possibility of toxic chemicals and radioactive materials ntering the chain. Once segregated, the waste is handled mechanically and treated through a well-defined process to produce high quality compost. Landfills produce produce vast amounts of energy nd directly benefit citizens through lower electricity bills.
The Italian experience (and other similar experiences around the world like those from advanced countries like Singapore) can be replicated in India within a decade. Technology has made dissemination of message to masses easier, and with a visionary leadership in place, which is committed to committed to cleaning India within half-a-decade, it is up to 1.3 billion Indians to rise to the challenge. Time tested and proven lessons are available around the world but it is up to us to learn… and learn quickly. The key lies in creating awareness in the minds of school children who are the national treasure of our country. It is adoption of a new lifestyle, hygiene and cleanliness at an early age, that will lead to these becoming a way of life.
Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “be the change that you want to be.” Charity must gin at home and with each one of us putting our two penny worth towards this noble cause.
The author is an entrepreneur with rich global exposure and distinct understanding of cutting- edge technologies. He is a leading expert on “smart city nd urban planning” andan acknowledged thought leader