The 150-odd families living in Orient Row, a quiet cosmopolitan neighbourhood in the heart of south Calcutta, have achieved what no other para has dared to dream — a garbage-free locality, all thanks to their effort and vigilance.
There were several garbage dumps along Orient Row, including one occupying a 20-feet stretch at the New Park Street end of the road right across Akash Ganga Hotel, even a couple of months ago.
For Kasturi Roy Choudhury, who lives at 3C Orient Row, the dump was a bane. “It was right across my house. I could see how people just came and littered the place. Soon it became a den of anti-social activities... illicit liquor, drugs, prostitution,” she said.
The dump was not just an eyesore, but a hygiene hazard too. “All night, I could hear bandicoots running about my house. I was really scared. I had two children at home,” said Kasturi, who lives on the ground floor of her ancestral house.
While she was thinking of what could be done, Kasturi came across Garbage Free India (GFI), an organisation of like-minded citizens and NRIs who have come together with the mission of freeing India of garbage. “They were very active on Facebook, I got interested, met them and decided to join them in the mission.”
Kasturi, named “garbage queen” by neighbours, began by employing a few people with cameras “to catch those who were littering”.
Armed with evidence, Kasturi and a gang of children went about the neighbourhood on their Bell Bajao campaign. “At first, everybody seemed to be cooperative. They all agreed, they did not want garbage on the road but denied littering themselves. When they were confronted with pictures, they didn’t know where to hide and realised they couldn’t do it any longer,” said Shahanshah Mirza, Kasturi’s neighbour and another GFI activist.
Even though the Calcutta Municipal Corporation conservancy staff visited the area twice or even thrice a day, there were people who would throw garbage on the road. “In some households, there were genuine problems. Senior citizens living on higher floors could not hear the conservancy staff. So we gave the staff whistles and asked them to shout for garbage near those houses,” said Ashish Banerjee, an Orient Row resident.
The dump was cleared at the initiative of local councillor Farzana Chowdhury.