Wing Commander Puneet Sharma was jet-lagged and wide awake in the wee hours of the morning.
Trying not to disturb his family members, he made his way to the living room and started typing. He was finally making an effort to translate an idea that was floating in his mind for the last seven days.
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Satisfied with what he had penned down, he pressed enter.
It is four in the morning. For those living in Pune lets meet and clean the city. No matter how small it may appear in the beginning, I am sure we can do our bit to provide much needed impetus to Clean India Movement. Let us spend two hours every week to make the city beautiful, read his Facebook post on October 9, 2014.
Interestingly, this was a few days after India’s biggest cleanup movement ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ was launched by PM Narendra Modi.
Puneet’s post received a positive response, and on October 12, seven citizens including Puneet and his two children kick-started the cleanliness drive at the Pune railway station.
The volunteers spent their day in clearing the litter and sensitised the vendors on the station to keep bins that could prevent the garbage from spilling on the tracks and platforms.
The next weekend, he created a Facebook page called ‘Swachh Pune-Swachh Bharat’ to display the group’s activities in a formal manner.
That was in 2014. What started with seven people has now turned into a citizen-driven movement of over 100 volunteers that organises various activities every weekend to make the city hygienic.
The best part about this group is that it has not taken a single break in the last five years!
Speaking to The Better India, Puneet, who was a former fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for 23 years, says:
By virtue of being a soldier, protecting society comes naturally to me. I wanted to go beyond the call of duty and protect the environment. Like everyone, I was also bothered by the garbage spewed on roads, paan stains and overflowing bins. Swachh Bharat gave me the much-needed push to make a change.
From mandis (markets), railway stations, bridges, bus stops, rivers, lakes, hill stations to forts, Puneet and his team of volunteers visit public places every weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and conduct the following activities:
– Sensitise the locals through street plays and flash mobs.
– Involve locals, clear the garbage or beautify the spot via paintings.
– Segregate on the spot the waste and send it to the concerned organisation/authorities
During the monsoons, they also plant trees.
While the plastic waste is sent to Rudra Environmental Solutions, an organisation that converts it into poly-fuel, the remaining waste is handled to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC).
The civic body often lends a helping hand to transport the waste to the dumping yards and even gives them brooms and buckets.
Until the group gained credibility, the cleanup drives were funded by Puneet to provide safety gears like gloves, masks and garbage bag.
Today, the activities are either sponsored by the citizens or through the CSR wing of corporates.
Memorable Events By Swachh Pune-Swachh Bharat
In terms of beautification, the pillars of Magarpatta flyover, Shivaji Nagar railway station and one of the public walls in Viman Nagar are the most significant examples of turning filthy spots into beautiful artwork walls.
The pillars were once infamous as a urinal spot. The volunteers removed all the illegal posters and paan stains, cleaned each of the 26 pillars, and painted Warli figures over them.
Similarly, piles of garbage would lie unattended near the exterior walls of the railway station and outside a 2.5 km in Viman Nagar.
Today, these places are clean, and garbage is no longer thrown there as no one likes to dirty something so attractive and pleasant-looking, says Puneet.
Another memorable event took place on India’s 70th Independence Day. Close to 1,500 volunteers from NGOs, corporations, educational institutions gathered in the city and cleaned 70 different areas.
The cleanup drive at Sinhgad fort saw a team of youngsters entertaining the tourists with live music as the volunteers lifted plastic bottles, leftover food and so on.
“The live music played a huge role in grabbing the attention of the tourists as some of them even joined us,” says Puneet.
So far, the group led by Puneet has conducted over 500 cleanliness drives. The mass movement has even witnessed volunteers branching out and starting their own NGOs or volunteer groups to carry out such activities in their respective areas.
Talking about his future vision, Puneet says, “I was able to groom people and get them together because of my professional skills. I want to create a momentum where citizens become mass leaders, and they take forward such activities across India.”
Puneet and his core team comprising 20 members, have already started working towards creating SWAG (Swachh Warrior and Guardian) clubs in educational institutions of the city. These clubs will be responsible for maintaining cleanliness in and around their campuses.
To mark Gandhi Jayanti this year, Puneet and his volunteers plan to organise 100 cleanup-related activities in the city.
Puneet Sharma’s dedicated efforts to make his city clean and green is proof of how citizens have the power to make a huge difference and make the society a better place.
Contact Swachh Pune-Swachh Bharat here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)