Suzanne Bernert column: Rooting for a swachh Bharat

I come from Germany which is a very clean country. People do not litter and there is an extensive recycling process in place. Every household segregates their garbage. My parents live in the countryside in Bavaria, 200 km away from Munich.

They firmly believe in composting. In composting, potato and other vegetable peels, besides other organic waste like used tea leaves, are all collected in a container placed in the garden. With time, the material starts to decompose and becomes earth which you can then sprinkle in your garden.

As for the disposal of paper, glass, tins and plastic, you have to collect them all and drive it to a place from where the government authorities send it for recycling. You may be punished if recyclable trash is not disposed off correctly.

Of course, this system took some time to get established in Germany and underwent some back and forth; but now, after years of practise, it is running well. My parents actually switched to e-paper to save precious forest resources. I too do not buy hard copies of books like I did earlier. I read books and newspapers on my laptop or on my cell phone.

You may correctly reason that Germany has fewer people and it is easier to oversee these things. Yes, India is huge and with so many people, I understand that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is rather difficult to implement because it involves changing people's perception. When Modiji came up with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it became a trend! People were all like “Yes!” But to sustain the movement, it takes more effort than treating it like a trend!

Swachhta should be a way of life and a civic duty—this is a thought shared by most of us. It results in a healthier environment with fewer diseases. But I have seen some people not washing their hands after using the toilet whether it is in a 5-star hotel or near the highway. Sometimes, the very person who will not enter the cubicle and go tch-tch on seeing a drop of water on the floor will leave the toilet without flushing and without washing hands.

I cannot comprehend this. Such people are equally callous about trash. They do not understand that one plastic cup takes 500 years to decompose. The one little wrapper and the one box they throw out of the car is building up to a big problem. The attitude is: someone else will pick up after me. For them assuming the responsibility for our surroundings is a novel concept.

Their belief is: ‘Why should I do anything? My maid will do it, the government will do it.’ However, once everyone takes pride in a clean and nice society/ street/ neighbourhood, there will be a complete seismic shift in the mindset of people. People who pick up trash or carry their trash home are still a novelty; I personally pick up trash. Once an elderly couple saw me doing so and thanked me. They said, “Now we will do this too!”

The good thing is school-going children are coming home with new ideas and a different outlook. A positive change I have seen very recently is that abandoned old cars or junk cars are being removed from the road by the police. It’s a move forward.

People who like to travel love the cleanliness abroad but they should be aware that people abroad clean their own houses; there are no maids in Germany. People assume responsibility of cleanliness. In India too there are some housing societies who do their bit for cleanliness and have composting, garbage segregation etc. and it is admirable; but it should become the norm and not the exception.

The “I do not care” attitude is many a times difficult to digest...I try to attend as many events to create awareness and lead by example. Hopefully, the next generation will be more responsible towards their surroundings.

I applaud anyone picking up litter and also those who recycle. And I don’t like people who say ‘But!’ There is no ‘but’ when it comes to hygiene because we only have this one world. Let us take care of this world so that it still exists in the future.

— Co-ordinated by Dinesh Raheja

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