When I took oath as the Lt. Governor of Puducherry, I gave the mantra "Prosperous Puducherry" as a comprehensive goal.
Little did I realize how all-encompassing it would be, all-consuming it would become. How hugely demanding it would be and how fundamental the need is.
Being a person from a disciplined background, my duty always begins with ensuring that the basics are in their right place and that I am in-charge of myself in order to focus on the unpredictable.
In my early round of the city, I found it in need of order. The way it was, I felt uncomfortable to be presiding over the chaos. It was, to me, a loose semblance of administration. A system of perhaps band-aid responses with multiple so-called providers. All dependent on vested interests. Dependent on whose day it was. Shopkeepers spreading out their wares on footpaths, compelling pedestrians to wade through honking cars, and even the roads occupied by those in need of selling their wares. On top of it all, whatever road space was left was for the parking of vehicles of the shop keepers. So where does the traffic flow? And where does the shopper park? How will business grow and the government earn revenue?
This was not acceptable. My need was fundamental: Rule of Law, Respect for Law, and willing compliance of Law with trust and faith in the persons implementing the rules.
I prioritized law enforcement to ensure police presence in a manner which is accountable for every inch of the ground. To begin with, it meant a system in which cops walk the beat as against mere patrols for visibility and quick response, which too is essential. But the difference here is that every inch of Puducherry must belong to a police officer by name. I could then pin down an incident to the person in-charge and find out why did it happen. It was also to recognize and reward who earned the day for Rule of Law.
This got into place soon enough. And was the easiest for me to do. Because police is me, every bit, but the unforeseen and really Herculean task became that of dealing with sanitation.
The scene as it prevailed in many outlying urban and rural areas was completely unacceptable. I could not tolerate open shit, strewn around putrefying garbage, or people's spaces occupied by those who think they can.
It meant addressing the unaddressed in reality and focusing on the most critical work which draws neither respect nor recognition.
This had to be put in place not by orders, but by really seeing the gravity of the problem, understanding why we're all contributing to the stinking and choked canals in the city, waiting for them to overflow during the monsoon with the result that excreta enters people's homes. Without intervention, people's hard-earned valuables and possessions would be destroyed and to shut them up, the government of the day would then demand relief funds.
Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi invited Rajinikanth to be the ambassador of "Prosperous Puducherry" (File photo)
I made it known that this situation was not going to be acceptable, hence, let's start cleaning now, with whatever we have, whoever can help. This is the time I realized what a huge challenge this is. It's not only a case of storm water canals mixed with sewage, but the rampant problem of open defecation by those thousands who built their small units without leaving any space for a toilet as they believed the lands, parks, lakes, water bodies were there for them to openly defecate in. For men, it was not a problem. But women? Was their need for safe defecation factored in when allowed space and building their small houses? No.
With the Prime Minister's Swachh Bharat
Movement, sufficient union government funds have been provided to aid build toilets in the home and community, both in urban and rural India. But this is not that simple. How do you implement this? Because it needs wholesale infrastructure where very little exists. Also, wherever it exists - for instance, a community toilet - a behavioural change is needed to use it, along with the willingness to contribute Rs 2 or so for using that public toilet.
And then the question is who maintains it? Who takes the ownership? Who ensures all use it and not still go for open defecation?
These are no ordinary answers. All these need direct one-to-one communication. Question is who takes the lead? Politicians, Collectors, BDOs, public officials, women self-help groups, NGOs? Who all? Who brings them together? And then who implements and sustains this? In fund management, there are several agencies involved. Who takes the lead? In some places, there are examples of Collectors who have taken the lead and done it. In some places, women self-help groups have taken the lead and done it. At other places, municipal services have done it.
Friends, this is why I asked for the most famous artiste of our times, Rajinikanth, to be the Brand Ambassador of the cause of Swachh
Puducherry. I felt with his message, several will build toilets on their own, others with government assistance. It will hasten the behavioural change, vital for putting this on the fast track.
People need to know that this change saves their children's lives, as they are most vulnerable to diseases which come from open defecation grounds.
Our Collector in Puducherry, P Jawahar, offered just one Kabali
ticket free for those volunteering to build their toilets - and there was a riot. Imagine if Rajinikanth lends his face and voice to the change!
Open defecation is the biggest slur on the world's largest democracy. For any conscientious public official, he/she cannot rest till the country is Open Defecation Free (ODF).
Now you know why I am out every Saturday and Sunday at 6 am with my team from Raj Niwas, the Public Works Department, officers from the municipal services and representatives from the departments of Irrigation, Slums, Engineers, Police, along with the local MLA, and NGOs.
Prosperous Puducherry cannot be prosperous until is it safe, secure and Swachh
Nor can India be prosperous till each one has human dignity!Kiran Bedi is Lieutenant Governor, Puducherry. She is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.