While the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is implementing the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ initiative this year and is ensuring the nitty-gritties to mark the 75th anniversary of the Indian Independence, the civic body had made Mumbai garbage-free on the 50th anniversary on August 15, 1997.
Making the city garbage-free was the brainchild of then additional municipal commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, who later became the chief secretary of Maharashtra and also the first chief information commissioner.
Speaking to The Indian Express, then commissioner Girish Gokhale said, “We wanted to do something unique for Mumbai on the eve of India’s fiftieth Independence anniversary and in a meeting, Gaikwad said that we will make Mumbai garbage-free on the fiftieth Independence Day. We all supported it. I remember all ward officers were told to cooperate with Gaikwad. On Independence Day, the British high commissioner called me and said Mumbai is looking really clean. The then chief minister, Manohar Joshi, also complimented us.”
On August 15, 1997, BMC fire tenders went to Dharavi and cleaned the roads after people defecated to ensure that the roads were clean. Gaikwad said he had taken over the solid waste management department in December 1996. “We visited Surat and saw the work being done by then Surat Commissioner S R Rao and back in the city, we launched the zero-garbage campaign,” Gokhale said.
Back then, garbage, wherever generated, had to be removed within 24 hours was the principle adopted irrespective of private or public land, said Gaikwad. He added, “We also appointed squads of nuisance detectors to discipline people, gave them vehicles and uniforms and identity cards and powers under Section 115 of the Bombay Police Act. I personally met the Commissioner of Police and got these powers delegated to municipal officials.”
From ward officers (now redesignated as assistant commissioners) to junior engineers, everybody had to start moving from 6 am. “I myself started moving from 6 am in the morning and used to tour the entire city,” Gaikwad said.
“Bulk refuge carriers and Tata dumper placers were procured to transport garbage. The monitoring system was developed to track non-clearance of garbage collection points on a daily basis and defaulter officers were taken to task. Areas that fell under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Port Authority as well as Bhandup hills from where garbage wasn’t lifted for years was cleared. Dharavi was cleaned and P C Alexander, then Governor, couldn’t believe as he used to visit Dharavi quite often since a Trust close to him was in Dharavi. I remember that when his wife told him about a spot, the Governor asked her to speak to me,” he said.
On August 14, 1997, the BMC staff worked from 6 am to 4 am the next day (non-stop almost 22 hours) due to motivation. There was a general body meeting in BMC on August 14 at 12am. “We visited certain areas of Mumbai on the night of August 14 and could find only two bus tickets near the road in Dadar,” he said.
“Stray dogs died on a large scale as there was nothing in garbage bins for many days. Soon after the flag was hoisted on August 15, Joshi walked up to Gokhale and said Mumbai is looking clean and sarcastically said, ‘I am not saying it. My wife says so’,” Gaikwad said.
August 15, 1997 was a culmination of the Zero Garbage campaign launched in January 1997. Later, in Dharavi, the BMC constructed toilets even on the main roads and placed several mobile toilets.
Subhash Dalvi, who was the officer on special duty in solid waste management, said, “In those days, there were no mobile phones to keep a watch. We used to hold weekly meetings for a review. We had completely cleaned up Dharavi and this won us international appreciation.”