“One spit costs Rs 150 here. You will receive a challan in return and there is no bargaining. Let the challan be a reminder, whenever you spit the next time in public,” sanitary inspector Shivaji Gaikwad tells Zubair Patel, a college student, caught by the newly formed Anti-Spitting Squad around 12:30 pm.
Gaikwad proceeds to take Patel’s photo with his phone as the youth tries his best to look away, and also clicks him while Patel gets down to mopping the red stains left by him along the roadside.
Patel is paying the price for spitting on the road at one of Pune’s busiest junctions, the Pune University Circle. “I was not aware of this rule. Please take Rs 100 as fine,” Patel pleads, with the Anti-Spitting Squad.
Gaikwad and the others are part of a newly formed squad in Pune, that works along with the Solid Waste Management Department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), to check the practice of spitting publicly.
Last month, the Maharashtra government had allowed all local bodies to conduct drives and fine people who “create nuisance” in public places. While a fine of Rs 150 was set for spitting in public places, throwing garbage on roads will attract a penalty of Rs 180.
Led by divisional sanitary inspector Sunil Kamble, Gaikwad is part of the 25-member squad of sanitary supervisors and cleaning staff of the Ghole Road ward office. The squad members, equipped with buckets containing water and a mop, stand near traffic signals and bus stops, looking out for people who spit and untidy the surroundings.
Standing with his arms folded, the khaki-clad Gaikwad shows no mercy. As Patel continues to plead, he asks, “Do you spit around when you are at home? If no, then why do it while on the road? If you have untidied a place, you have to clean it.”
Posted as sanitary inspector with the Ghole Road ward office for five years now, he says the cleanliness drive was launched during Diwali as a pilot project. “Most people have welcomed it and suggesting that the drive be continued for a longer time. Some of the bystanders even come up and shake hands with us for the work we do. It feels special,” he says.
As the traffic light turns red, another set of motorists wait at the crossing. That is when Gaikwad spots Yuvraj Inamdar, who is in his 30s, spitting, and orders his team to bring him aside.
Kamble says that just two weeks into the drive, the number of offenders is seeing a fall. “The awareness is slowly catching up. With widespread circulation of photographs and videos online and on WhatsApp, people are thinking twice before spitting,” he says.
Following the initial success of the pilot project along with support extended by residents of Pune, the Pune Municipal Corporation has decided to expand it to all wards. But the larger goal remains to put forth a “cleaner image” of the city ahead of next year’s nation-wide Swachh Survekshan contest.
In the first hour of the drive today, the squad has collected Rs 600 as fines, with only four offenders.
Starting at 6.30 am every day, Gaikwad’s main duties are to supervise the smooth functioning of the department’s activities. The morning slot, till about 11 am, is usually occupied with tracking operations of ghanta gaadis (waste collecting vehicles), ensuring that sanitary workers sweep the roads well and waste collectors segregate the garbage into wet and dry waste.
“Most of the cleaning and sweeping jobs happen during the early hours of the day and I have to ensure everything runs smoothly. Thereafter, we meet to decide the locality which the Anti-Spitting Squad will be visiting. We then set out by noon,” informs Gaikwad, as he passes instructions to other team members waiting on either sides of the roads at the junction.
Some offenders even get into arguments with the squad members and refuse to clean the mess. That is when Gaikwad has to be stricter.
An elderly man, dressed in smart casuals, spits on the footpath as his autorickshaw slows down at the University Circle junction. Gaikwad politely informs him of the offence and asks him to step out of the vehicle. But the old man gets angry and refuses. Following a heated argument with the squad, the rickshaw driver intervenes to request his passenger to pay the fine and resolve the matter, pointing out that a crowd has gathered at the site.
“Some people find it unbelievable that they have to pay fine for spitting and take offence when we hand over the mop. Of course, it is embarrassing — not something they would ever do, at least not publicly,” says Gaikwad, who lives with his elderly parents, wife and a son in old Sangvi area of the city.
As the drive for the day is called off a little after 2 pm, the teams meet under the flyover at the Pune University Circle junction to submit details of the fine collected and the list of the offenders to Kamble. By now, two hours into the day’s drive, a total of Rs 3,100 has been collected from 26 offenders.
While the duty of the team officially ends at 2.30 pm, for seniors like Gaikwad and his colleagues, there is still a lot of work to be done. They only take a short break for lunch before returning to their jobs.
“We have to collate the list of offenders and details, and prepare a report which is then sent to our senior officers. They review the daily reports and give us instructions for the drive for the next day. Typically, the day ends at 6.30pm,” informs Gaikwad, as he hops on to the jeep, heading to the ward office, about 1.5 km away, for lunch.