|The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescue operations in flood-hit areas of Jammu & Kashmir.|
Good governance is inseparably married to responsible citizenry. We have the right to expect everything in order; but it is also equally, if not more, important to do our bit in this marriage. First and foremost, the victims of the catastrophic floods in Jammu and Kashmir need succour, relief. For months, if not years, after this, we are going to sit and analyse how and why the water got to such devastating levels.
Indeed, the administration and all its arms failed to do what it had primarily been tasked with- plan, prepare, provide. From early warning to disaster management, all these angles will be analysed, in painful detail. So will the physical infrastructure and its usefulness. And that is necessary, too. We need to hold public servants responsible for what their job is, and whether or not they deliver honestly. That time has come.
In the months to come, also, there will be a lot of introspection. And introspection is directed inward.
As citizens, we need to examine the cumulative, but eventually devastating, effect of our seemingly harmless transgressions. In the case of the Mumbai floods, we understood how much plastic and solid waste we were pushing everyday into the city’s ageing and crumbly drainage system. In that city, for instance, there are hundreds upon thousands of roadside tea-and-food kiosks, and then there are domestic and commercial establishments- each of them uses and throws solid waste into the city’s sewer system. Most of the plastic and other solids just cling to the drains and choke them shut.
Choked drains, congested low-lying areas, unsafe constructions, zero preparedness and paralysing complacency. These are what define our urban centres, by and large. Whose responsibility is it to keep our cities clean, safe and better prepared?
Of course, it is the job of the municipal corporation to pick up that waste every day, take it far away, process it, bury it and keep the city clean. And that is another story altogether.
And it happens not just in our cities, but all over the world. Don’t we hear of monster ‘fatbergs’ in London clogging underground drainage of entire neighbourhoods? Or grease-and-automobile waste popping downtown manholes like Colt Dragoons in some South American city? And there is so much plastic in the Pacific Ocean not far from Hawaii that it can cover dozens of football fields, many feet thick.
Still, the sooner we take some of that blame away from the nameless-faceless city officials and own up some of our own responsibility, the sooner we will have cleaner, safer cities and better prepared cities.
Cleanliness is not some inscrutable environmental science mumbo-jumbo. It is basic. Mahatma Gandhi tried to teach it to us over and over again- from personal hygiene to city-wide cleanliness.
Cleanliness is a personal choice, and it is not welded solid to the poverty-illiteracy-poor hygiene vicious cycle. Nor is this degradation the sole doing of the underprivileged.
Highly educated and well-to-do communities are as much, if not more, responsible. Encroachment, illegal construction and blind disregard of building by-laws and other people’s safety- these are some of the things that define the way a sizeable chunk of the moneyed class builds its houses and lives.
It’s all hunky dory till something catastrophic happens- an earthquake, floods or something else. Then the seams of our civilised existence open up. We need to be civilised at the individual level, first and foremost.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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