India might be preening on its growing economic muscle. But cities and towns are getting incredibly dirty. In a desperate attempt at stemming the slide, the Mumbai civic authorities are taking a leaf from the city state of Singapore and have started levying stiff penalties penalties for spitting and urinating in public or dumping any waste material in the open.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced Wednesday the appointment of five private security agencies to look after cleanliness and sanitation in the city with powers to impose fines ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 20,000 on offenders.
And they "swung" into action the very next day. Thursday evening the civic marshals were flagged off by Mayor Shubha Raut. Dressed in dark blue uniforms, 50 civic marshals then fanned out to the areas under their respective jurisdiction.
"This system will be very transparent and accountable. The marshals have been given uniforms and I-cards and also provided with digital cameras. They can levy fine only after clicking a photograph of the offender in the act," Additional Municipal Commissioner P A Rajeev said.
Already the country's commercial capital has some nuisance detectors (NDs) installed at vantage points. But obviously that is inadequate for a place dubbed by the UN itself as the most densely populated city in the world. Its population has crossed 16 million.
Obviously daunted by the scale of the task before it the Mumbai Corporation is roping in private security agencies are being roped in. But does such an approach make sense for such a vast city and which "boasts" of one of the largest slums in Asia?
Cautioning that such a system can lead to clashes between the public and the marshals, Mayor Shubha Raut requested the civic administration not to charge fines in the first month.
Still the marshals went ahead started penalizing those caught spitting or littering the roads in the business area of south Mumbai. The agency recovered a fine of about Rs 5,000.
However, in some wards the civic marshals reported to the ward offices late in the evening and chose to work from Friday.
It is just the beginning, wait and see, says a hopeful Additional Commissioner Rajeev, who is believed to be pushing through the idea in the face of reservations on the part of the elected corporators.
He also said the marshals had been asked to be considerate towards the slum dwellers and first educate them on civic sense. Strict action and fines would be levied against the affluent, he said.