It began when he was the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in Etmadpur, Agra district, in 1993 and the sanitation workers went on strike.
On the following Monday morning, Dr Ajay Shankar Pandey walked in with a broom, started cleaning his room, and proceeded to sweep the office premises. Aside from officials working at the office, there were a few reporters who had gathered there as well.
Dr Pandey is a stickler for cleanliness. In his words, it’s his “passion and mission”.
“When the workers were on strike, I had tried my level best to resolve the issue, but they were adamant about not coming back to work. Then I called upon the people there to act and told them that living in this dirty environment would harm their families. I asked them, ‘why are you waiting for the sanitation workers to clean up your garbage and that this isn’t dirty work’. My emphasis was to make them take ownership of the situation and start cleaning the city. Initially, they laughed at me, but I thought that maybe I should lead by example,” recalls Dr Panday, now the District Magistrate of Ghaziabad, in a conversation with The Better India (TBI).
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Upon seeing the officer take the initiative, other officials agreed to start a sanitation drive in the municipal area. With their cooperation, he started this campaign in the city itself.
“If they were convinced with my vision, I told them to bring their families and some cleaning equipment. Eventually, the entire town came onto the streets and within five-six hours we had cleaned up all the garbage that hadn’t been collected for days. We continued this initiative for three-four days. Upon seeing citizens cleaning the streets, sanitation workers felt they weren’t entirely indispensable, and came back to work. This incident inspired me. Since then, I clean my office every day, arriving 10 minutes before official work begins. You will see a broom, wiper and big dustbin just outside my office,” he recalls.
Outside Dr Pandey’s office, is a board on which he’s written (translated from Hindi): I’ve cleaned this office myself. Please do not increase my work by spreading dirt in the office premises’. The history graduate from Allahabad University has lead many cleanliness initiatives from the front in other places too.
After the SDM post, he continued this practice as the Municipal Commissioner of Gorakhpur, Kanpur, and Ghaziabad, Additional Divisional Commissioner in Meerut and most recently as the District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, where he again put up a similar board outside the office premises.
“As Municipal Commissioners, we oversee the work of sanitation workers in the entire city. The number of workers range from 2,000 to 6,000 sanitation workers, but as a matter of practice I do not let them enter my room. Instead, clean it myself,” says Pandey.
“In India, we have this notion that cleaning is the job of a particular person and that we have got nothing to do with it. In our family system too we see women of the family doing all the cleaning, while the men never even sweep dust. This impression must go,” said Pandey, in a conversation with The Hindu in May 2014.
Although the 2005-batch UP cadre officer takes the lead in cleaning his office, there is no compulsion on his subordinates to follow his lead. However, as per his experience, many have been inspired and they have started cleaning their own premises.
“My appeal to everyone is that just spend ten minutes of your time cleaning your respective homes and its immediate premises so that it reduces the load on our sanitation workers a little bit. Once you lead by example others might one day follow,” he says.
Upon seeing the district magistrate’s message on the board, all employees and officers working under him have also taken up the initiative of cleaning their respective areas in the office. As a votary of the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, he believes that such messages will convince fellow citizens of achieving the dream of a Clean India.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)