Last week, the Prime Minister took to the street, not to protest against anything but to launch the week-long town cleaning programme. A media report the next day said that there was a lacklustre response from the residents to the programme. It Is not as if the people of the Kathmandu city are adverse to such programmes. Prior to the launch, programmes were held in different localities in the city asking the people to participate in the campaign.
The pre-cleaning launch programmes were organised by a particular political party, the Maoists to be exact, when such programmes should have been an all-party or non-partisan affair. No wonder, therefore, that the response from the people towards the town cleaning programme was less than expected. The presence of high ranking ministers and officials alone is not enough to ensure the success of any programme that demands the participation of the people unless the people themselves are convinced that such programmes are undertaken with the genuine desire to help the people lead a healthy life.
Everybody agrees that a clean city devoid of heaps of garbage everywhere and a city that is environmentally healthy is in everyone’s interest, no matter which political ideology he or she follows. But to try to gain political capital out of such campaigns is more likely to backfire than not. The man in the street is wondering if the Prime Minister has no more important task to perform than take a broom and try to show that he along with his other followers are seriously involved in cleaning the city when his prime task is towards paving a smooth way for the writing of a new constitution for the country– a constitution that is generally acceptable to the people and not merely to the main political parties.
This in no way means that the city, and indeed the capital Valley, is in no need for proper cleaning. Indeed, everyone including those who throw garbage and trash on the busy street feels the need for creating an environment in which city dwellers can live in clean and peaceful surroundings. Who would not want to live in such an environment?
After the cleaning programme kicked off, groups of Kathmandu municipality workers as well as a few commoners took to the streets to clean up various wards of the city. On Monday, the cleaning programme was undertaken in Ward No. 22 of the Kathmandu Municipality and it was surprising to see more men (and women) in uniform (the police) with trash-cans and brooms than even the municipality employees. The sight is not particularly pleasing as the participation in the programme by the people is much more important than the show of strength of sorts by the security personnel whose primary task is to provide security to the people.
But the presence of the police in the campaign does give rise to the possibility that security personnel who have nothing better to do than bask in the sun or go about in boisterous mood might be better used for help in cleaning. This is just a possibility that will be loathed by most people as security personnel, including the army and the Maoist fighters– maintained by the tax payers’ money – might be better utilised than they are these days.
The large garbage dumps that one sees in some of the main streets of the city must be taken better care of and for this the Kathmandu Municipality has to take the initiative and designate points where the people can dump the garbage. In the early days when the municipality began disposing off the garbage, there were large garbage disposal trailers that were placed at many points in the city into which the people could throw the garbage and trash. The trailers would be towed away the next day, thereby minimising the possibility of dirtying the streets. But that practice has ceased for a long time, maybe because there were too many people in the city or may be because the Kathmandu Municipality does not have the resources to purchase such trailers anymore and might be awaiting aid from donors to carry out one of its primary tasks. The municipality would do well to consider re-introducing past practices of placing towing garbage disposal trailers even if it means having to spend some money on such a scheme because it will reduce the possibility of dumping garbage and trash wherever one wants.
We the residents of the city are also to be blamed. Even today, there are city residents who throw trash and garbage from their windows down on the streets. Thankfully the number of such residents has gone down dramatically, But throwing down garbage and trash from the windows still continues, even though in reduced numbers. This reflects the mentality of most city residents that needs to be changed if the city is to remain clean. Even though unorganised, there are garbage dumps every few hundred metres within the city that is cleared by the municipality vehicle every morning. All we have to do is to collect the garbage and trash in our respective houses, place them in plastic or paper bag and walk a few hundred metres and throw the garbage bag in the garbage dump.
Surely we do not need the country’s prime minister taking up a broom to educate us on the need to keep our city clean. Such cleaning campaigns were held in the past too but till the people themselves change their attitude and the municipality become more active, such campaigns will result in mere spending of money that can be better utilised in other needed areas. In short, cleaning programmes should not be mere show-offs.