In the old days, ‘paan’ eaters would carry spittoons around with them so as not to dirty their surroundings. In today’s world, although a very large number of persons have taken to the ‘shahi’ habit of chewing ‘paan’ or the various masalas and gutkhas that come in lieu of it, the basic decencies have been abandoned. They spit as and where they like, simply because they can.
Probably the biggest challenge faced by urban society, today, is that of waste management. People litter, spit and dirty the surroundings in a variety of ways. Plastic and other non-biodegradable waste chokes the drains and sewers, further compounding the problem. In India’s caste-based consciousness, the task of cleaning-up is left to just the section of society paid to do so. Everybody else ‘behaves like a Maharaja’, even though the old feudal lords were very particular about their personal habits.
There is growing awareness among people, particularly the educated youth, about the harm caused to the environment and the quality of life by such behaviour, but it is obviously not enough. Too many people believe that throwing a plastic cup or bottle, or even the wrapper of a sweet, from the window of their fuel guzzling, air-conditioned SUV is a small matter, but just examine the roadsides through Rajaji National Park from Dehradun to Haridwar and the cumulative damage caused is more than evident.
So, everybody must make an effort – be it the slum-dwellers living along the streams and having few choices, or the well-to-do who generate waste way more than their share. Both sections (and all those in between) must first learn to segregate. India’s powerful sunlight over many months and the monsoons are capable of dealing with biodegradable waste more efficiently than elsewhere, but combined with plastic, it becomes toxic. Apart from the problem it causes to animals that consume plastic just to get at the food it wraps, it chokes drains and helps mosquitoes and other parasites to breed. This simple act of segregation is so easy that it is only downright cussedness on the part of the polluters that keeps them from practicing it.
Much of the non-biodegradable waste can be recycled or reused in inventive and productive ways, if only it makes its way to the right people. Given the criminal negligence of the ordinary people, the problem would be much worse were it not for the ubiquitous ‘kabaadiwala’ who sees value in so much of what needs to be disposed of. Unfortunately, even this section of society is overwhelmed and gets rid of ‘separated’ waste in the nullahs and streams.
The young people, as well as the more motivated officials of the municipal and district administrations, should focus on the source and the ultimate destination of the waste. If people begin segregating at home, much of the problem would be solved at the source. At the same time, S&T should leveraged to deal with the ‘non-disposable’ waste at the end of the chain. The cities need this more than anything else, be it Delhi or Dehradun.