A mass cleanliness drive initiated by the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) last Friday is likely to earn it a place in the Guinness Book. Although the mayor of the DSCC claims his primary intention was nowhere near the making of a Guinness record, media coverage gives the impression that such a record rather than a successful cleanliness drive was in fact the objective of the move. This impression is further consolidated by the fact that the arrangement, according to the organisers, was nothing more than a symbolic drive. Also the area covered by the 15,313 participants in the campaign is between Golap Shah Mazar and Purana Paltan - a stretch of only 300-metre street. The spectacle of such a huge number of people with white caps on was really splendid and there is no denying that it has its great symbolic value.
However, a one-off drive in which leading personalities of different walks of life join the campaign with no practical follow-up can hardly be rated beyond a publicity stunt. Here is a city where its citizens lack the minimum sense of civic awareness. People mindlessly spit all around with the betel-nut chewers leading the pack on the spitting spree. Littering the roads and streets with refuse and rubbish has tended to become a national habit. There are all kinds of dumping on footpaths, along with urination in full view of the public. All these habits and practices leave the city continuously dirty. The city corporations' employees engaged in cleaning the city streets cannot keep the city clean when its inhabitants have very little or no responsibility in doing their part. A report published recently claims that the nice-looking hanging dustbins have all gone missing. First their use was limited and now those have been stolen.
There is a lesson to learn from the missing dustbins. No good arrangement yields fruits unless people are prepared for taking the benefit out of it. As a people, citizens here have miles to go before they can think of achieving the level of civic responsibility like the Singaporeans. Singapore went for a regime under which the citizens were asked to give the best of accounts possible as a small unit in a multitude with the objective of accomplishing collective well-being. Sure enough, cleanliness ought to be part of culture. Of course, legal obligation plays a part in the bargain but it is always desirable that people raise their sense of duty at a higher level.
No Guinness record can alter the fact that Dhaka city is a living hell. If it has to be brought out of its miserable condition, a concerted and sustainable campaign has to be carried on. The citizens will have to be inspired not to spit and throw away rejected packets, polythene bags and other rubbish anywhere and everywhere. At some point erring members of the public will have to be fined for breaching the regulations to be made mandatory for compliance. The task is daunting, no doubt, but seriousness of intention of the authorities concerned can make a difference in the situation.
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