Spit and pee in public, flyovers are more important

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Almost every other week, outside my office on Sarjapur Road, I see an elderly gentleman stopping by a tree in the morning, to relieve himself.  A Nirmala Shauchalaya stands barely 100 metres away from this recipient tree.

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The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) budget ambitiously speaks about a lot that the city needs – storm water drains, flyovers, underpasses, parks, playgrounds – so on and so forth. A lot of criticism has gone the way of the budget, pooh-poohing the amount of loans that the corporation is planning to take and slamming the massive revenue projections.

Plans have been made for magnanimous projects, but the city corporation seems to have completely ignored some very important and absolutely basic aspects of public health, sanitation and hygiene.

How many times have you winced, cringed and cursed when you see someone spit on the road, urinate on the roadside and litter the street?

My basic human instinct prevents me from spitting in public. So what makes these thousands of others feel that it is perfectly normal to spit on the streets?

The problem is that we always go running back to that infamous ‘used to’ phrase.

Well, for one, the BBMP first has to set an example in matters of hygiene and sanitation, before they even think of putting it into their budget.

The BBMP Commissioner need not even step out of his office premises to see who’s spitting and who’s not. Right at the very office he heads, a ridiculous number of people find a good corner to go and spit. I would be surprised if not one BBMP official has seen this with their own eyes.

The same way, on any day, walk into K C General Hospital in Malleshwaram and you will see at least a couple of visitors spitting right there on the premises. It’s probably not unheard of in a government hospital, but why is it that the hospital authorities have not woken up to this?

The problem of spitting in public does not require a group of technical experts to sit down and draw up a detailed analysis. And for this I am going to make a comparison (not the best way to make an argument but nevertheless) that may make you roll your eyes and say, ‘Oh! Not again!".

In Singapore there are high fines that one has to pay if you break the law – be it littering, spitting (I don’t think they have an explicit category for spitting, but hell knows how much you’ll have to pay if you are caught in action!), jaywalking, and others. The fine amounts are exorbitant – $5000, $3000, $10,000 – these are crazy amounts. And people comply. I mean, they have to.

Why can’t we collect fines for spitting here? It’s one of the most visible problems in the city, but still nothing has been done about it.

Collection of fines is not going to be easy, as is known in the city, where negotiations are made between the fine collector and the violator, and a compromise is reached. But that is an institutional problem which anyways needs to be fixed.

And there’s also the issue of widespread use of paan, ghutka, betel leaves and other tobacco products, which increases the number of people spitting and the amount of spitting itself.

Up against a wall

The same may not be easily applicable in the case of defecating in public, with the lack of hygienic public toilets. The elderly gentleman I see near my office is a case in point.

But that doesn’t give motorists the right to park their vehicles on the side for a quick leak and then proceed like it’s the most normal thing to have done.

Again, I have seen visitors at the BBMP office at NR Square, urinate on their premises, outside the council building. Isn’t it such a shame that it’s happening right under their noses?

And nothing has been done about the state of toilets at the BBMP office. Recently a female journalist was stuck in one of the toilets in the council building because the door was stuck. The toilets are smelly and unclean, and the conditions far from satisfactory.

Also, honestly, it’s much better for men to use unhygienic public toilets than for women to do so (we can get into an argument on this, no problem). But we still see more men peeing on the streets.

BBMP’s ‘litter cops’

Then there’s the issue of littering. The current waste disposal system is clearly not working. I would like to rewind to one of BBMP’s rules (or such) that instituted the concept of ‘litter cops’. These officials were to fine anyone caught littering the streets.

It would be interesting if the BBMP effectively implemented this on a trial basis (of course, while encouraging waste segregation at source). They could install separate bins (wet/dry, recyclable) in public places like malls, theatres, restaurants, and so on.

Classical conditioning with a twist

Through all of this, the BBMP will also be able to garner some revenue, at least initially.

It’s going to take a little bit of brain-storming to exactly translate this into implementation. The question of who will monitor this, who will collect fines, how many such people should be put out for the job, all need to be looked into.

But it sure could be a good start for a city where things have gone awfully wrong.

When there’s talk about encouraging more people to use public transport, why not encourage people not to spit on streets, urinate in public or litter the road? Penalising them is the only way to get started.

Holding awareness campaigns or putting up boards that simply say, ‘Don’t Spit Here’ haven’t worked in the past. Take the ban on smoking in public places for starters. Neither have signages helped, nor has the law been strictly enforced. At a recent BBMP council meeting, I saw two corporators, Manjunath Reddy (Madiwala, Ward 172) and Mohammad Rizwan (Guruppanapalya – Ward 171), smoking inside the council building.

Slapping fines is the only way to ‘encourage’ people to spot dirtying public places. ‘Classical conditioning’ with a twist you can say.

The toughest part is to get the public to sit up, notice and realise. This can only be done by strict enforcement of bans/fining.

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About Vaishnavi Vittal 17 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

8 Comments

  1. It’s amazing that even 7 years later not only has the problem remained, it has actually has gotten worse!

  2. I agree completely, but people have to change their mindset and no amount of rules, fines or boards can do this for them. I feel parents need to inculcate these values in their children and be living examples.
    Whenever I see anyone peeing or spitting I immediately stop my vehicle and embarrass him by asking him not to do it. As a result I have been jeered at and even shouted at but I know that the next time that person will hesitate.

  3. Excellent post, highlighting the problem, which is not just spitting and peeing…but the lack of political will. When fines are collected for so many other infarctions, why is this not implemented with a will?

  4. Many ‘Nirmala’ toilets, courtesy the Infosys Foundation, were installed all over the city. But, their maintenance has been far from satisfactory. Besides, whereas toilets should remain open till late into the night after opening early in the morning, the BBMP possibly mans it on a single-shift basis, resulting in their remaining locked when they are most required. A simple and practical solution may lie in handing over the maintenance of the toilets to a local eatery for an attractive concession in property tax, and thereafter the BBMP engaging itself only in regular inspections – for more, check this link –
    http://praja.in/en/blog/nagrajprabhu/2009/08/08/public-toilet-ppp-initiative#comment-16351

    And, today’s press reports say “SC tells govt to ban gutka sachets – says Centre more interested in revenue by the ‘poison’ than citizens’ health”

  5. Bravo! Ms Vittal.

    In a bracing language she has highlighted one of our most disturbing cultural inadequacies. We appear to be preoccupied with cleansing our bodies and spirits than cleaning our selves and the environment.

    The Commonfilth Games have been an unmitigated disaster in so far as putting our filth on display to the world. One of the senior organizers of the Games smeared all Indians by saying that the standards of cleanliness in India are different from others. Maybe, he was merely stating the obvious so well articulated by Vittal in CM. I just do not share the opinion of the senior pooh bah of the Commonfilth Games.

    One does not have to go to the island city-state Singapore to observe cleanliness. A day trip to any town or city in Kerala will do.

    We need to acknowledge our cultural inadequacy and remedy it. Middle-income, middle-class, middle-brow Indians can do so much by simply observing habits common elsewhere.

  6. Traveling by Bangalore buses gives you several opportunities to see natives in action regarding spitting. As soon as I get into a bus, more often than not I close the windows instead of keeping them open. If one sits in the back seat and does not close the windows, it is quite likely that some wet matter lands up on the face. Some of the spitters do wait till the bus stops. Actually the sounds of the break prompt them to clear throats and be ready to spit outside the window. It is very considerate of them except that there is a breeze often. When they are admonished, some of them do turn back and speak as though it is their right. This phenomenon is there all over the country and is quite possible one of the factors which keeps the republic united !

  7. I share your concern about the state of public health and our civic sense. My classmate a cardiologist was a frequent to Singapore and China. Once after one of his visits he lamented about the state of our hygienic conditions and the way these two places have handled the problem successfully. I reminded him that he must realize that one is a regimented democrracy, a very small place where almost every one can be kept an eye on from a height. YOu know the latest: the fines have failed as most of the offenders are rich enough to pay the fine. So they have decided to make the offender clean the street and carry garbage as a punishment!!!! In China you know what will happen if you do not follow the rules.
    The only way is to empower the people and that is what we are attempting to do by catching them young. We, a few concerned citizens, are into this community effort to facilitate the learning of the science of hygiene in schools through life-skill based learning. It is a humble attempt to put the future citzens right so that the country will be all right.About 30 schools -KVs, Government, Private schools besides Two Teacher Training Colleges, MIT and a Nursing college have are into the implementation ofthe program since 2005 and we have evolved the strategies and methods of implementing this student-centered program. This we feel is the only sustainable solution to the problem which is the cause for all the evolving health challenges.

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