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The Unsung Heroes Who Have Been Working Towards A Swachh Bharat For Many Years Now


As Prime Minister Narendra Modi kick-started India’s biggest cleanliness drive on October 2, 2014, in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, everyone came together to make this campaign a big success. We take this opportunity to talk about some laudable models we can replicate and salute some of the unsung heroes who have been doing extremely good work for quite some time for a cleaner India.

On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the country’s biggest ever cleanliness drive. The five year long Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India campaign) has a mission of a “clean India” by 2019 when the country will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The PM took a cleanliness pledge at India Gate along with 30 lakh government employees. Modi invited nine people to join the drive and requested each one of them to engage nine more people into the initiative to make it a success. The total cost of the project is expected to be Rs.2 lakh crores. A Swachh Bharat Kosh has been set up to attract funds from corporates and individuals for better execution of the plan and facilities.


October 2, a public holiday, was a working day for government employees this year as they were instructed to lead and engage in the cleanliness initiatives in their respective offices. Prominent personalities including cricketers and actors also joined Modi in his cleanliness drive.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Center) kick started Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on October 2.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Center) kick started Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan on October 2.

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626 million people in India — the highest in the world — defecate in the open as they do not have a toilet. While most Indians look upon such initiatives as short-lived and (the most cynical among us) view them as photo ops for ministers, we do hope the latest Clean India campaign will be an important step in changing this alarming situation.


The Unsung Heroes

As the whole nation is now coming together for this crucial cause, we would like to salute some of the unsung heroes who have been working towards a cleaner India for much longer.

One of them is Vikas Chandra who has dedicated his entire life to cleaning the river Ganges. For the last 20 years, he has been working with a group of volunteers to clean the holiest and also the dirtiest river of India. Fondly called “Guddu Baba”, Chandra filed a PIL in Patna High Court to make the river pollution-free. Not only this, he manually pulls out the dead bodies from the river and cremates them.

Another inspiring personality is a 102-year-old lady on a mission to clean up the country. Ahmedabad-based Rama Mali has proved that there is no age to start something good. On her 100th birthday she started a cleanliness drive in Kalupur. Inspired by Gandhi, Mali spreads awareness about cleanliness in her locality, distributes pamphlets and makes sure that people use dustbins.

Jodie Underhill (left), Founder of The Mountain Cleaners
Jodie Underhill (left), Founder of The Mountain Cleaners

In June this year, Vistaap Kharas, a Mumbai-based interior designer took a bold step when he saw someone in a BMW throw an empty can of coke on the road and stopped them from doing so. He was beaten up by the guys in the BMW for this act but he stood up against those who believe they can get away with littering and breaking the law because they are rich. He also endorsed and led BMC’s cleanliness campaign after the incident.

A remarkable group of anonymous changemakers who call themselves The Ugly Indian have been quietly transforming dirty corners in cities into bright, attractive public spaces. A completely citizen-run initiative, it sees groups of people come together and take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for a government body to come and clean up their localities, as they “believe that there is no magic wand, or silver bullet, to solve India’s civic problems. We are realists, and accept that many of India’s problems are hard to solve even if the government and public work closely together and money was freely available.” Watch a video on one of their amazing stories of change here and join their facebook page today to “be the change that you want to see in the world” as our beloved Bapu would say.

Apart from Indians, UK-born Jodie Underhill, along with her group of volunteers, has been cleaning up some of the most visited pilgrimage trails of India in the Himalayan belt. Underhill and the volunteers of ‘The Mountain Cleaners’ pick up the trash, segregate it and also manage it responsibly. You can know more about their work here.


Models we can replicate

If more people like these come forward then we surely can see a cleaner and healthier India in the near future. Citizens’ initiatives never go unrewarded and a great example of this is Mawlynnong village in Meghalaya which is tagged “The Cleanest Village in Asia”.

There are stylish bamboo dustbins everywhere and separate compost pits in various pockets of the village for organic and inorganic wastes. Not only this, smoking and use of polythene is strictly banned here. Villagers maintain the public toilets and make sure they take care of the regular sweeping, weeding and watering of the gardens. You can read the complete story about this village here.

Mawlynnong village in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is the "Cleanest Village in Asia"
Mawlynnong village in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya is the “Cleanest Village in Asia”

If modern cities replicate this village’s model, with better technology and resources, the mission of “garbage-free” India can be achieved in a very short span of time.


Apart from this village, India’s first and only recycling plant for construction and demolition waste has been effectively working for over five years to make better use of this waste. They have saved the severely polluted river Yamuna and the overflowing landfills of Delhi from 15.4 lakh tonnes of debris. Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), along with Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), collects the waste and segregates it into various categories which is later transported to the waste-to-energy plant in Okhla.

With the launch of the Clean India campaign, we see a silver lining and a new hope that India will look different after five years. But this will be possible only if each one of us becomes a part of this huge initiative and does not let it die.

From government officials to citizens and even leaders of the opposition political parties have joined hands to make this campaign a big success. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up your broom and join the effort for a clean India.


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