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.
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. ⊕