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Home Cover Features Civic sense takes a knock - Part 1

Civic sense takes a knock - Part 1

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For five consecutive years from the late 20th century to early 21st century, Hyderabad was the winner of the prestigious national “Clean and Green City Award”. During those pathbreaking years, the city transformed itself from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, with wide, neat and clean roads, elegant sidewalks, lavish greenery landscapes and so on. There was a palpable sense of pride among the city folks in keeping the city clean and green. The air was thick with optimistic feelings that the city has turned around the corner and there was no going back to the past when it was rated as one of the dirtiest cities in the country.

Unfortunately, the optimistic spirit slowly withered away and a sense of complacency crept in, negating the hard efforts put in earlier. Today, the city has been pushed to ninth place in terms of cleanliness and quality of life. A recent survey conducted by A C Nielsen ORG MARG, covered 18 state capitals, including Hyderabad, puts the city at ninth place. The survey criteria covered 11 factors that influence the cleanliness of city. Factors like purity of drinking water, drainage system, garbage disposal system, clean roads (with regard to spitting, urinating, defecating etc), air pollution, dustbins in public places, public toilets, greenery and plantations in the city, public transport like buses and trains, cleanliness of public places and the involvement of Municipal Corporation in the cleanliness of the city.  People interviewed were all between the ages of 18 and 60, including an almost equal number of men and women across income groups.

J David Foster, an American working as urban advisor with Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), attributes the city’s slide to the inability of the infrastructure to keep pace with the growth of the city. He and his wife Barbara Foster moved to Hyderabad last year and joined ASCI after retiring from the American Embassy in Delhi. Both have seen the city’s growth at close quarters since 1972. He further pinpoints, “During this recent period of rapid growth, unfortunately, Indian public infrastructure; water supply, sanitation, and transport; has simply not been able to keep up with the rapid urbanization and private sector growth and Hyderabad is no exception.  Furthermore, as this urbanization trend is likely to continue for at least another thirty years, the only real solution seems to be in learning how to build and maintain that infrastructure more effectively and to make the cities as liveable and efficient as possible.” The past few years have seen the city being confronted by a host of daunting problems like potholed roads, traffic jams, overflowing gutters, and stinking garbage leading to a basic sense of despondency and frustration among the authorities as well as well-meaning citizens to meet the challenges.

City resident Malcolm Wolfe who was instrumental in raising the issue of fire safety in high-rise buildings with DG Fire Services that brought about transformation of mindsets, and currently working as a security consultant with a premier security agency, feels that the city folk’s nonchalant attitude and the authorities’ lacklustre response has been instrumental in the city reaching the present situation. “I have been living in this city since my birth and have seen it evolve from a beautiful and serene city into a bustling and unhealthy city. Hyderabad in the 1960’s and 1970’s was by and large a clean and neat city with wide roads, neat sidewalks, minimal pollution and so on. But now all of that has gone. Though there is no dearth of money to inject a new sense of life into the city’s look, there seems to be little pride in injecting them.

Of course, there are lots of bright lights and modernised looks all around, but that’s confined to just a few parts of the city. Only some parts of the city are cleaned regularly. But by and large, the lanes and bylanes and most parts of Secunderabad are far from clean. The areas seem to be in a constant state of disrepair, with half-finished buildings, incomplete roads, too many hoardings with inadequate traffic signals and finally, lots of pollution.”

NVVR Kumar, a Senior Manager with a premier public sector company BHEL agrees with him and says, “Yes, the city seems to have fallen by the wayside. These days, only the main roads seem to get cleaned whereas other roads, particularly in the interiors are left as it is. There seems to be general disinterest and apathy for cleanliness. Before the authorities appeal to the people to keep the city clean, they need to chip in with proper efforts. For instance, there is irresponsible digging by numerous agencies without proper approval from the concerned authority. It looks as if the officials neither have the capability nor the will to coordinate activities like road digging, etc. Also, roads are laid and re-laid umpteen times with the end result the roads develop uneven surface all along. The mud and stones that are dug up on occasions are simply dumped by the wayside or on the footpaths and left uncleared for days put together. Later, even if cleared, they are done shoddily and patchily. Manholes are opened up, left uncovered for days, with just a few rocks put around its border. Later, even if the covers are put back, are done shabbily, half-covered and protruding dangerously. The digging sign-board highlighting the work, are just kept aside on the footpath or on the road itself. The level of the manholes never matches the level of the roads. The people concerned seem to have learnt no lessons from the past when such shameless manhole openings caused deaths of innocents. Look at the case of Mayur Marg locality in Begumpet, wherein the water works personnel left unattended the laying of pipeline for days put together; and all this despite the case being highlighted vigorously in ‘Times of India’ newspaper for a month or so. It’s a real shame and if such a case happens in a prestigious locality; imagine the plight in lesser known localities. Your guess is as good as mine. Efficient officers need to be put in place and given complete powers to do what is best in the city’s interests. Also, city people in general lack civic character and a feeling of pride. They undo what the authorities do for them in good faith.”

Evolution of the City:

In 1950, the population of the city was 11, 22,000 and it’s estimated to go up to 1, 04, 57,000 by 2015. As on date, it is recorded to be about 62, 55,256 and the population density of the city has been ascertained at 14,192 per square kilometre. The population of Hyderabad is a cross cultural potpourri of native Telugus and settlers from various parts of the country and the world. People from north Indian states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal are migrating to Hyderabad in droves thanks to its emergence as a thriving IT hub and the centre of scientific and technological development in the country. There has been an upsurge in the number of people making a beeline to Hyderabad in search of better employment opportunities and educational institutions. The cosmopolitan culture in the city is another notable factor for heavy influx of people from across the world.

Narender Luther, former chief secretary to Andhra Pradesh government and currently a prominent writer blames increasing population for the city becoming congested and dirtier. He feels that both the municipal authorities and the people are to blame and says, “Garbage is not systematically and regularly cleared. People throw away garbage anywhere. People callously indulge in acts like urinating, etc, which negate the beauty of the city. Most of their acts are due to inadequate facilities. Also, wherever they are set up, the facilities are not properly maintained. People from nearby slums misuse them. No penalties against improper garbage disposal are enforced, as a result such acts go on unabated without fear and care-me-not attitude.”

Dr. S Jeevananda Reddy, an ex-expert/chief technical advisor to United Nations Organizations like Food & Agriculture Organization, World Meteorological Organization, a former scientist with ICRISAT and advisor to several environmental groups and currently Convenor for ‘Forum for a Sustainable Environment’, agrees that population explosion has been instrumental in changing the skyline of the city and says, “The city has become dirtier with passage of time and civic sense is at its worst. People in the city have poor sense of affinity for the environment. The problem seems to be totally incurable. The mindset needs to be changed.” Having seen the city’s staggering growth since 1940’s, he further points out, “The city is living on the infrastructure developed by Nawabs prior to formation of the State to meet the needs of over 5-lakh population. Then the city had good drainage system and roads, with good ecological balance with parks & lakes all around in the core MCH area. After the city became the state capital, these were systematically destroyed/ encroached upon. With increasing population density, there was massive infrastructure development supplemented by increased level of congestion. The infrastructure has been developed in an unplanned manner. Despite the submission of several plans by various committees for planned development of infrastructure; none of them has been properly implemented.”

The large-scale shift of population to Hyderabad has resulted in congestion and unplanned growth of human settlements forcing major changes in land use. Further, it has also resulted in enormous pressure for shelter and services fraying the infrastructure. The prevailing infrastructure is insufficient to cope with increasing demands on water, roads and sanitary facilities. This in turn has resulted in unhygienic conditions in many areas and the trend continues to date.

Experts further point out that the haphazard growth of Hyderabad has degraded natural resources like water, air, and soil. Environmental pollution has reached alarming levels in the last 5-6 years, chiefly due to growing congregation of industries and increase in number of automobiles. Several bulk industries on the outskirts feed their effluents into open pits, leading to extensive ground water pollution affecting the sources of agricultural and drinking water needs of the surrounding colonies. Several lakes have been inundated with effluents from industries, including Hussainsagar.

Vehicular pollution is responsible for more than 80% of the air pollution and domestic sewage for more than 80% of water pollution – ground water & surface water. Industrial growth in and around twin cities is also responsible for increasing air & water pollution. Corporate Hospitals are multiplying and piling up biomedical wastes. Domestic garbage & industrial hazardous wastes are dumped every where, more particularly along the roads, low lying areas, water bodies, parks, etc.

Environmental studies disclose that environmental conditions in Ramanthapur and Uppal areas continue to be a cause of concern. Most of the industries are in the midst of residential areas, with no proper drainage system and without any effective monitoring of the industrial discharges. This kind of ill-planned and haphazard growth has resulted in consequential effects on the quality of life of the city’s residents. Added to this, the city is battled by the ghosts of traffic congestion, deplorable road conditions, pollution and virtual breakdown of civic conditions, all of them interrelated, forming a network of problems, balancing and perpetuating each other.

Poor civic sense of City folks:

The biggest problem that confronts the city and the country as a whole is that of civic sense or the lack of it. Former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam is reported to have said in one of his many famous speeches, “Why do we Indians as a whole score so poorly on civic sense? What intrigued me is that the same Indian who let his dog dirty the pavement in India would not throw as little as a bus ticket on the pavements of Singapore!” Therein, sums up the difference in the attitude of the Indians in India and abroad. Why? Because of the fear of law abroad, where rules are strictly enforced and no person, irrespective of its status or position in society is let off scot-free, if found guilty of flouting rules. On the other hand, in India the rules are flouted with impunity and without fear, caring a damn for the country’s image or the inconvenience of fellow citizens. Another classic case, wherein rules are flouted with contempt is by flamboyant two wheeler drivers. Throwing caution to the winds and without an iota of concern for fellow pedestrians, these modern day stunt masters drive with gay abandon on footpaths, whether on the ground level or flyover. A walk-in to places like NTR Marg footpath, Raj Bhavan Road footpath, Lifestyle Mall flyover, etc, will allow one to sample the sight of reckless and thoughtless two wheeler drivers driving on them at ultra-furious pace. Traffic cops just swish away any complaint made in this regard. This is bad, traffic cops need to come down hard on these daredevil heroes and nip the bud before a life gets taken away. Taking away their driving license and making them cool their heels in lock-up along with heavy fines would instill in them a sense of fear for the law and chisel them on the right path.

Indians including city folks basically are in the dark about the meaning, importance and value of civic sense. It is a common sight to watch people in the city throw trash as and where they like, spit without any concern for others and answer nature’s call in every available vacant space they can find. Also, at many places, we can see construction materials being dumped in a crude manner on roads or just outside house or incomplete buildings. All of these not only cause inconvenience to others, but also result in severe health problems. Diseases like malaria, diarrhoea and many viral infections today are spread due to unclean surroundings. Malcolm Wolfe puts it across very well when he states, “Most people believe in personal hygiene and corporate filth. They believe that they have all the right to throw anything on the street, as long as it does not affect them. In other ways, their attitude is why bother if my waste thrown on the streets spoils the shirt of the other person, but does not spoil mine.”

A frequent visitor to the city, Bangalore resident Sujatha Bagal laments the complete absence of civic sense. “I have been abroad and seen at first hand as to how their citizens respect civic rules. I saw with my own eyes as to how a German mother taught her littler boy back to carry the candy paper till the next trash bin. On the other hand, in India garbage is dropped instantly when it occurs anywhere, anytime. Not to say that Indians wouldn’t keep their houses clean. By contrast, one could usually eat from the floor. But step outside, and you have not a joint habitat, but a common garbage dump. Peeing openly is a habit in India and one can see floods of male urine running down the walls in Indian cities. All of it is not at all a matter of poverty. I remember 3 years back when I used to deal in jewellery, I went to a 17-storey building in Bombay where all the wholesalers have their showrooms. Each and every of them a multi-multi millionaire and the offices were small, functional but immaculately clean. When I stepped outside on the aisle to walk to the next door, I could feel a stench mixed with disbelief coming up my nose. I walked further when I looked into the joint floor-toilet of these multi-multi millionaires and it looked as disgusting as the train station toilets in Germany’s small towns looked back in the 70’s. If these jewellery dealers were to Invest jointly $ 2000 once and for maintenance another jointly $ 60 per month, it would have made this toilet look like a palace. But no, it doesn’t happen now, and I don’t believe it will happen in India in the next 1000 years. Because it requires a feeling of co-ownership, of a joint cause of, yes, call it civic sense. And that is certainly not one of India’s strongest traits.”

She further pinpoints, “In Hyderabad, there is simply not sufficient infrastructure to support its burgeoning population, a sizeable portion of which settles down in slums and sidewalks upon arriving into the city. Early morning ablutions and life, for that matter, have to happen in full view of the rest of the city. There is no alternative. Let me give an example of how Ulsoor Gate traffic police in Bangalore made their area stench-free. They catch those urinating on the footpath and give them three options - pay the fine and get away OR get a bucket of water and clean up the area OR hold the ears, and do sit-ups. This policy worked and today, no one dares pee in the area.”
Dr. S Jeevananda Reddy agrees with her and states, “In many parts of twin cities, people answer nature’s call openly in regal style, wherever they find an empty space or a boundary wall, whether it’s in the heart of the city or the interiors.  Also, people bring their pet dogs and dump their dirties in front of other’s houses. Public parks have become dumping yards & centre for anti-social activities including prostitution & drug trafficking.  In many areas, parks are used as toilet zones by hut dwellers. It’s just not the uneducated, but also the educated and well heeled people who indulge in activities detrimental to the city’s look. They are least bothered about keeping the surroundings clean. Everybody thinks it is not his duty, but the Government’s duty to keep the surroundings clean. With every passing day, the city has become dirtier and civic sense seems to only deteriorate with each day. It looks as if the problem is incurable. The people’s mindset needs to be changed drastically.”

When asked as to what must be done to revamp people’s mindset, Malcolm Wolfe said, “Two things are needed, Education and Enforcement. Also, the media needs to get involved deeper in educating the public in all languages. As on now, some areas are a huge health risk and the residents don’t even know about it. The general public need to be sensitised and encouraged to improve their civic sense. It’s better to not wait for the people who matter, but rather it’s better to mobilise the people’s power and ensure a drastic change in civic consciousness. I also recommend the proper usage of ‘Right to Information Act’ to bring about needed changes.”

Prominent social activist Capt. J Rama Rao agrees with him and pinpoints, “Awareness and concern for others normally bring in the required change in the mindset and attitudes of the people. But it is a very time consuming process in our setup, where there is too much of bureaucratic control and less of ‘Governance’, resulting in the ‘Rule of Jungle.’ The only thing that works is the fear of deterrent punishment by implementing the Rule of Law uniformly and ruthlessly, while at the same time undertaking awareness programs and activities.”

In advanced countries like USA, Britain, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Sweden, etc, people don’t dare to flout civic rules. If they dare to do so, they would be caught and fined more often than not for flouting civic rules. American expatriate Anthony Sicola, who works as a senior manager in a top-notch city-based firm, affirms this and pinpoints, “The fines for throwing garbage and litter are extremely high in the US, somewhere between Rs. 12,000/- to 40,000/- per infraction. The US was pretty bad about littering in the 1970s, but these fines have helped to control the litter problem in most US cities. Spitting is as disgusting in the US as it is in India and it is often overlooked. Urinating is akin to public nudity and indecency in the US and the fines for those infractions are large as well. Indian authorities could add so much money in fines to the public coffers if the police would just enforce rules like these.”

Cities in the advanced world have a fleet of regenerative air street sweepers and highly skilled operators who clean the City streets in accordance with framed civic guidelines. The cities are kept clean and free of debris by both daytime crew and special crews that work through the night after most businesses have shut down for the day. Also, rules are strictly implemented and offenders irrespective of their standing or stature are penalised and reprimanded. No person is shown undue favour and it is this approach that has been largely responsible for inculcating a sense of civic sense and pride among the people in these countries. Hyderabad could do very well by following this approach.

When asked about the models followed in the cities of the advanced world, J David Foster replies, “Some American cities offer good models but they are by no means perfect. In fact, compact energy efficient European and Japanese cities may be more appropriate models for India than the typical sprawling American city. Just as in India, cities in these regions experienced most of their growth before the advent of the automobile. Both American and European cities as well as those in Japan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand all do a much better job of enforcement, transparency, and cost recovery than is generally done in India. World wide there actually is a strong correlation between trust, transparency, freedom from corruption and freedom from litter. In addition, where citizens are fully aware of the costs of providing good services and pay their fair share of those costs, they also tend to take more pride in their cities.” Fellow American Anthony Sicola agrees and says, “Inhabitants of cities in the advanced world tend to follow rules and the fine is so hefty in many cases that not following them is just like opening one’s wallet and letting the notes just fly out of it. Why chance it? Here however, police tend to look the other way. Else, they bypass laws by collecting dole from offenders. Pride is something that is learned.  I see so many people here in Hyderabad and India who are so proud of their country, and they should be, but in the same moment I see the person that is so proud of their country littering. Something doesn’t add up here.”

NVVR Kumar emphasizes the need for a proper blueprint for the orderly growth and maintenance of the city and urges the authorities to have a concrete vision to bring about a change in the look of the city. He pinpoints, “Else the sorry state of affairs will continue and the city will slide further downhill. Also, I suggest poor conditions prevailing in various parts of the city need to be properly highlighted so that proper and swift action is taken to rectify them. The local municipal representative needs to be made accountable for poor sanitary conditions. The media should play a more proactive role in highlighting these matters rather than focussing on the irrelevant activities of so-called prominent people. The municipal authorities must nominate one person to whom complaints can be mailed/ represented and the officer should give a commitment for the correction in a specified time frame.”

Not only, Hyderabadis aren’t averse to breaking rules, but are also not scared of fines, as they very well know that they will never be caught and even if they do, why, they can get away with bargaining tactics with the authorities. The city authorities must employ a mix of high technology, proper education and heavy fines to bring about a change in the mindset of city folks and instil in them a sense of fear for the rule of law. Anthony Sicola suggests police authorities need to clamp down hard on offenders and pinpoints, “The police need to begin fining people for these infractions and then, maybe things would change. Changing the mindset however is much more difficult. This needs to be done through public service campaigns that show people the reasons that they need to stop doing a certain thing (spitting, dumping, urinating, etc.). This should be handled at the city level or the state level. Goa seems to be doing a pretty good job of this.” The offenders should not only be reprimanded, but also should be reported in the press and questioned about their attitudes live on television. If the person concerned is found littering the streets, such a person must be made to sweep the streets or roads where they littered. Prominent social activists suggest that cameras, CCTVs and the latest technology is the need of the hour if offenders are to be caught. People will not argue their innocence, and cops will find it impossible to accept bribes.

Hyderabadis need to get their act right and fast. With the city becoming a favoured destination of many global companies, there has been a rapid inflow of foreigners into the city; foreigners who are civic conscious people, brought up on a diet of cleanliness and respect for proper hygiene. For them, the prevalent civic scene comes as a culture-shock. They find it difficult to comprehend as to how the city folks, who are so conscious of keeping and maintaining their bodies cleanly, aren’t averse to do the exact opposite when it comes to the city they live in. It remains imperative for the Hyderabadis to change their mindset, become more civic conscious and play their due role in keeping the city neat and clean rather than passing the buck to the authorities.

Go to the concluding part

(The views expressed here, and the recommendations made, are those of the author. They do not reflect those of this publication. Facts and figures, if any, are those collected by the author and readers are advised to recheck them.)

Cover Feature: January 2008 

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