Notes from India: “Clean Lucknow, Green Lucknow”
I’ve spent my entire life in India, but have yet to see a trashcan anywhere on the streets. I guess that’s the reason why there’s a big pile of garbage at most street corners, especially in the residential areas. In some locations, however, the government hires street sweepers to clean the streets of garbage. My family, and others in our neighborhood in Lucknow, burn any garbage left on the street so there are no smells, no germs in the air, and no filth outside the house.
Since we don’t have separate dumpsters for recycling, people carrying large plastic bags on their shoulders pick empty plastic bags and bottles, glass bottles, and other items from the piles of garbage on streets. These items are sold, then recycled. Since most of the empty plastic and glass bottles are used and reused for storing spices, creams, oils, food, and other items, they typically aren’t thrown away unless they’re broken.
Food leftovers are generally given to the maid of the house, or put out for cows, birds, or dogs on the streets to eat. But the sad part about this is that some people discard food leftovers or peelings in plastic bags, and unsuspecting cows or buffaloes eat through the plastic bags to get to the food. This can lead to sickness and death for the animals.
On the brighter side, it’s very encouraging to know that hill stations like Nainital and some others don’t allow use of plastic bags to discourage people from throwing it in the lake, which is the focus of tourist attraction.
Items not thrown out on the street — such as non-composting paper, metal, and some plastic garbage — are sold to a kabari (trash/garbage collector). The kabari then sells the items to someone who can sell them further or recycle them. Some of these kabari ride three-wheel bicycles through residential neighborhoods, stopping and buying recyclable materials, such as old newspapers, metal things, glass or plastic material, old appliances, etc., from people who call out to them.
The animal dung out on the streets continues to be a nuisance to the cleanliness and hygiene of the city. There was a time when the local milkmen would have small houses and pieces of land throughout the city. They kept their cows, buffaloes, and goats there, and used the gobar (dung) as fuel. They’d collect it, dry it, and make flat discs of it to be used as fuel to cook food. It was possible for them to do this, because the dung would be on their fields or on the nearby streets, where they could collect it.
Ever since the government moved the milkmen out of the city, the stray cows’ dung on the streets just ends up on tires and shoes, and becomes a stench. Even if these wandering urban cows belonged to someone, it would be humanly impossible for the owner to keep track of them and collect the dung of his cows from the various streets they walk on. On a more positive note, there are gobar gas plants that allow the gas from gobar to be used as fuel.
One would be surprised to see the dumping grounds here. It’s a huge piece of land where the garbage is left for years to rot! But there’s good news also. Sometimes the government or the city’s development authority, for example the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA), will press the garbage with road rollers into the ground for months, then cover it with mud or concrete. Then they sell that land as residential or commercial property – using garbage as landfill.
Another form of garbage that can be seen all over India on walls, buses, streets, and many government offices is the remains of spit from paan (betel leaf). This tobacco spittle becomes our “social bookmarks.” It’s funny and ironic that every place or wall where it says थूकना मना है। (Do not spit), people make sure they spit on the word मना (not), so the remaining words are थूकना …है। (Do … spit).
The paan stains, as well as cigarette and bidi butts, are littered everywhere. But we’re making progress. The Supreme Court passed a law last year on October 2, prohibiting smoking in all public areas. The Delhi High Court has also banned smoking from being shown in movies.
What’s surprising is that a lot of people contribute toward a “greener India” without even knowing it. Since most cities have small markets in every neighborhood, people just have to walk a couple of blocks and can find almost everything one needs for day-to-day living, thus reducing the pollution from vehicles. Also, Delhi, Lucknow, and other cities have small three wheeler auto-rickshaws that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), which is more environmentally clean.
We are taking small steps in my country, but we are making progress. We are moving toward “Clean Lucknow, Green Lucknow” (the slogan painted on numerous railings, walls, buildings, etc.), and thus toward a greener India.
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