India Taps Social Media To Take Out the Trash
Environment ▶ Ordinary citizens use camera phones to report illegal garbage ▶ “Our cities are very large, and most … are short-staffed”
A concerned citizen in a large Indian city takes a picture with her cell phone of a garbage bag, brimming with refuse and illegally dumped on the street. She then sends it to the garbage police by using Whatsapp. Khaki-clad cops jump in their vehicles, rush over, find the violator, and order a cleanup. If the culprit isn’t present, a municipalpal crew does the job. City officials fine ne the offenders if they can find themm and maybe reward the whistleblowerwer as well.
That’s what’s happeningening in some of India’s major municipalities. cipalities. “Technology-driven initianitiatives such as this Whatsapptsapp helpline can help build daa bridge between the city ty authorities and the citizens,” says Babasaheb Rajale, who was deputy ty municipal commissioner in charge of solid id waste management for Navi Mumbai (a suburb of Mumbai) and had five officers fielding garbage complaints on Whatsapp. In March he moved to another government job.
“Without citizen participation, these problems can’t be solved,” says Arindam Guha, a Kolkata-based partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India. “Our cities are very large, and most municipalities are short-staffed.”
The Delhi state government launched an app called Swachh Delhi, or Clean Delhi, in November for people to upload photos of illegally dumped garbage. Another Delhi government department is seeking Whatsapp reports to stop people from burning waste to keep warm in the winter, a practice that worsens what’s already the world’s worst air pollution.
In Bihar, the state government is trying to clean up the capital Patna— ranked among the four dirtiest cities in India in a 2016 nationwide government survey—with Apna Patna, or My Patna app, which allows citizens to report violations including litter, broken streetlights, flooding, dead animals, and illegal construction.
Navi Mumbai’s Whatsapp initiative deploys two Nuisance Detection Squad jeeps to enforce no-littering statutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and respond to Whatsapp tips—more than 300 since the program’s start in January. Violators can be fined 100 rupees ($1.50) for the first offense and 250 rupees thereafter, though the culprits can’t always be found, Rajale says. The relatively small fines are designed to embarrass violators into behaving more responsibly.
The program follows a similar experiment that another government agency in the city started in October to stop the du dumping of construction debris. That kindk of illegal scrapping of used buildingbuil materials has been cut in half sinces then, according to the age agency.
Two vehicles, called F Flying Debris Squads, pa patrol Navi Mumbai precin cincts around the clock to ca catch truckers, mostly from th the construction industry, du dumping rubbish either withou without a permit or in off-limits area areas such as the mangrove swam swamps that border the city. Citizens can receive a 1,000-rupee cash prize each time they report truckers violating the law, according to Ankush Chavan, a senior official at the city agency. Violators face confiscation of the truck, unless they pay a fine of as much as 30,000 rupees. More than 60 trucks have been confiscated so far, with fines totaling 1.34 million rupees. “Municipal officials can’t be everywhere,” says Chavan. “Why not have citizens act as our eyes and ears?” �Bhuma Shrivastava and Anto Antony
Prime Minister NarendraNa Modi has made
cleanerc cities a priority The bottom line Indian cities have found a new way to keep streets cleaner and construction debris contained: citizens and their cell phones.