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Facebook crusaders to clean up the dirty picture

A number of Calcutta-lovers from all over the world have got together to rid their beloved city of a stinking reality: garbage.

Members of the Facebook group, A Garbage Free India, are both Calcuttans and NRIs. The group’s collection of posted photographs is anything but pretty, but that’s exactly the point they want to prove: the revolting pictures of garbage mounds in various parts of the city are a grim reminder of what they propose to fight.

“Why does our city and country have to look like a giant garbage dump?” said Sanjiv Kapoor, a management consultant operating out of London.

Sanjiv was in the city on Monday and he, along with his Calcutta-based La Martiniere batchmates Hemant Capur and Rubayat Kadir, met Calcutta Municipal Corporation commissioner Khalil Ahmed to discuss ways to tackle the menace.

“Last year, we took photographs of garbage in the city and created the Facebook account A Garbage Free India. It created a stir,” said Sanjiv. “There were debates about why we were highlighting the negative aspects of our country.”

Soon, the page had more than 200 subscribers from all over the world, “95 per cent of whom had roots in Calcutta”. And everyone offered to help in whatever way he or she could, Sanjiv added.

The subscribers ranged from those living in Calcutta as well as those who had lived and studied in Calcutta schools such as St. Xavier’s and La Martiniere before moving abroad. “There are people from the World Bank, the IMF, investment bankers, corporates in hedge funds, airlines — all very successful people,” said Sanjiv.

Brand guru Suhel Seth, who is from the city and an alumnus of La Martiniere for Boys, did his bit “but nothing was happening”, according to Sanjiv.

It was time to move to positive action. “We then sent letters everywhere — to editors, MPs, but got no response,” Kapoor said. “We then wrote to the municipal commissioners and then the first and only positive response so far came from Khalil Ahmed, the municipal commissioner in Calcutta, who responded to our email.”

Sanjiv, Hemant and Rubayat met him at the civic body headquarters on Friday. “The commissioner was very positive about our ideas and told us the civic body had schemes where corporates and NGOs could partner the corporation in various projects. He asked us to carry out pilot projects in select areas,” said Rubayat.

The three had further meetings with civic body officials on Monday to discuss the agenda.

“We are delighted by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s response,” said Sanjiv. “They are already doing a tremendous job. It is the only civic body in the world to cover 99 per cent of the city’s households to collect garbage from their doorsteps. But the problem, I think, lies with public behaviour. It is here that we have to work to create awareness. I have seen a domestic help from a posh housing complex empty the trash can on the road itself, well beyond the hours of the municipality’s garbage collection. Unless we can stop that and also the man on the street from urinating on the road, this city will continue to be filthy.”

The anti-garbage crusaders have now chalked out a plan of action.

“We will start multi-media awareness campaigns, carry out pilot projects in certain localities, interact with local stakeholders like local clubs and offer them incentives like prizes for the cleanest locality, interact and involve the media and go for social fines like create a ‘hall of shame’, where pictures of people littering the streets, urinating in public places are featured and bring in global and local experts from developing economies to share knowledge-based best practices,” said Sanjiv.

“When we started the Facebook page, people from all corners responded. People posted pictures, there were debates, the response was overwhelming,” said Sanjiv.