A community cleans up its act
The narrow paved entrance to Govardhanpurwa (Block 92 of Kanpur Nagar) is spotlessly clean. The open drains on either side are free from plastic and other rubbish and consequently, are able to maintain their flow easily. Neat dustbins are visible outside most houses. It's a far cry from the conditions that existed here six months ago. The drains were clogged with garbage and would overflow every time it rained. The narrow lanes of the neighbourhood were littered with festering garbage. Flies and other vectors abounded. Waterborne diseases were rampant. “The government had not really done much to clean up our neighbourhood,” says Raja Ram, member of the community’s Mohalla Samiti. “So during one of our regular meetings on with WaterAid India and their field partner Shramik Bharti, we decided to do something about it ourselves!”
The Mohalla Samiti comprising of residents of Govardhanpurwa sat down to understand the root of their sanitation problem. “We realized much of the filth was because there was no proper garbage collection service here,” Raja Ram says. “We thought that if someone could start a paid door-to-door waste collection service, perhaps our neighbourhood would become a cleaner place…” So the Samiti invited one of their members Raju Valmiki to start collecting waste in the community. WaterAid and Shramik Bharti gave him a uniform and gloves, and also petitioned the local municipal council to sanction a cart for him. Raju was only too happy to do this. “I’m a sweeper by profession,” says Raju, a burly 45-year-old man wearing a bright red shirt. “I thought this way, I could earn a little extra and actually help clean up my own environs!”
Since November 2018, Raju has been driving his collection cart through the neighbourhood and 50 households empty their respective dustbins into it. "I segregate the waste, sell whatever can be recycled — plastic milk bags glass bottles, paper and more — to the local kabadiwala, and dispose of the rest safely in the municipality dump," he says. Every day, he is able to sell recyclables for Rs 10-20. "This has become my pocket money," he grins. And from every household he services, Raju charges Rs 30 per month. He’s happy to have an extra income: "I earn about Rs 6500 sweeping people’s homes," he says. "But the added income of Rs 1500 I get from cleaning up my own neighbourhood seems much more precious."
Now Raju is thinking of how to use the wet waste. Unlike in rural areas where people feed wet waste to their livestock, there are few animals in Govardhanpurwa. “Composting it is the best way forward,” he says. “We could sell the compost locally and reduce the volume of waste thrown in the city dump.” However, their neighbourhood is congested already and they haven’t yet been able to find place for dig a composting pit. “Once we do find a suitable space, my next step will be to get people to start segregating their waste at source,” he says. Raja Ram believes that the compost could also be used to develop small vegetable gardens within the community. His wife had planted sponge gourd in an unused bucket last year and it gave them a good supply of green vegetables he may not have been able to afford otherwise, through the summer.
Not surprisingly, Raju, Raja Ram and other community members are relishing their new-found cleanliness even more because they have done it together, as a group. “I feel so satisfied that we were able to come together and solve our own problem without waiting for any outsider to do it for us,” says Raja Ram. He believes that such meetings have strengthened community and neighbourly ties. “Raju and I are the same age and both of us have been born and brought up in Govardhanpurwa,” he says. “But somehow, it is only now that we have become friends.” It is the strength of the community backing him, Raju says, that gives him hope that their collective effort to clean up their neighbourhood will only improve in the coming years. “Most of us are quite inspired by the success of this idea,” he says. “Going forward too, we’ll try and solve as many of our community’s problems together!”