Sucheta Dalal :From today India gets first litter-free city: Kozhikode
Sucheta Dalal

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From today, India gets first litter-free city: Kozhikode  

August 14, 2005

RAJEEV P I         



Many Kozhikodans love to believe that Vasco Da Gama won’t lose his way if he returns to the city now, 507 years after his ship famously docked here? The narrow, winding city streets haven’t changed much since.


But Kozhikode is now all set to be declared India’s first litter-free city, tomorrow. Author and social critic Sukumar Azhikode will make the formal declaration at an elaborate function here.


The only rough patch is, the Congress-led opposition in the local city corporation has decided to boycott the declaration. They allege it is a vote-catching ploy of the CPM-led front ruling the civic body, five months to Kerala’s local bodies poll.


The change, however, is for real. Gone are the odious heaps of fly-infested trash, even the eyesore public rubbish bins. No one throws garbage out anymore, or need to. Thanks to an initiative that has caught the fancy of much of the city population, smartly uniformed young women arrive driving specially designed cargo autorickshaws at each city home, shop and office every morning, picking up the garbage. Every home has been given two covered containers a white one for plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes, green for other trash.


Together, the 730-odd trained women belonging to local self-help collectives now handle some 300 tonnes of city wastes, over the 83 square kilometres that this small city straddles. They are organised into 73 different units of ten women each. The city corporation gives each unit a grant of Rs 1.25 lakh and helps get an equal amount as bank loans, to buy two autorickshaws.


Almost all of them are the unemployed from poorer city homes.


It’s not a free service. Each home must pay them a service charge of up to Rs 30 each month. Shops, hotels and offices pay more. But few seem to grudge it, except in politically polarised city pockets. It is any civic body’s basic responsibility to keep its city clean. It’s not fair to charge people for such a service, says Noorbina Rashid, councillor and a leader of the opposition in the corporation.


But others are happy. All 73 units remain comfortably viable a year since launch, says P Venugopal, the corporation secretary. Initially, the women used to hire male drivers, but not anymore. They drive their autos themselves.


The city corporations covered trash trucks relay the collected rubbish from the autorickshaws to the refuse yard on the outskirts at Nheliyamparamba. A private company, Poabs Ltd, then gets down to turning wastes into manure at the corporations refuse processing plant on the site, while the segregated plastic and non-degradables go to landfill sites.


The Rs 6.13-crore model solid waste management project is funded jointly by the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests, the state pollution control board and the city corporation. Before its kick off in 2004 June, the corporation had managed to rope in local NGOs, officials, residents associations, trade bodies and others to pledge their support.

Local monitoring committees headed by the respective ward councillors and nine local members monitor the garbage collection and cleanliness drive. Hotels and the trade have their own street monitoring committees.


There have been some non-cooperation in some areas, mostly political. So we are going to bring in adequately hefty fines for garbage throwing, with a built-in option of designated rubbish drop points in the city for those wanting to keep off this project, says city mayor Thottathil Raveendran.


The only remaining hitch in cleaning up the city, the Mayor claims, is finding a site to house the city’s Rs 50 lakh night soil disposal plant. Its attempts have been meeting with stiff local resistance everywhere.


-- Sucheta Dalal