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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Children activists

Though I have often fantasized about becoming a vigilante, vigilante activists make me nervous. And child vigilantes make me even more nervous. They are too much like those firecracker rockets that are shot out from a bottle by enthusiastic people who expect the rocket to go straight up in the sky and amaze everyone with its brilliance. Those enthusiastic people are nowhere to be found when the rocket takes an unexpected turn and sets a house on fire.

A vigilante is someone who punishes perceived lawbreakers themselves rather than relying on the authorities. When the children from the Mala schools marched to the Mayor’s office and dumped garbage on his desk, it was obvious they must have been gathered together by their wiser elders as a last ditch effort to solve the garbage crisis Panjim is facing.

I can understand the anger the children of the Mala schools must be facing. They were used by the very same Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) under the auspices of ex-Commissioner CCP Sanjit Rodrigues and Patricia Pinto to get involved in the Chaka-Chak campaign, to go from house to house and every establishment in the city patiently explaining to unaware adults the importance of segregating their waste at source. Their magnificent efforts worked and Panjim became one of a handful of cities in the country where segregation is a word to be admired.

For a large part of Sanjit Rodrigues’ tenure Panjim was run by him and the staff of the CCP. Rodrigues was so passionate about maintaining the cleanliness of the capital city; he used to be up, cruising the city from early morning till late at night. He set up a network of informers who would report any illegal dumping of garbage and he would immediately land up in the place with his flying squad and take action. Panjim sparkled. Vendors kept their goods within the confines of their establishments; plastic of below 40 microns was banned. The schools and citizens gave the CCP their blessings and co-operation.

And then the elections happened and 30 councillors came into the city. They tried to remove the composting stations from their wards. They sympathized with the plastic lobby and vendors who could not take Sanjit Rodrigues’ heavy-handed discipline and shunted him out. The downward slide of the beautiful city of Panjim began and no commissioner who came in after that could fight the might of 30 not very bright elected representatives.

And the children of the Mala schools watched in disbelief. The anerobic digester was set up across the canal from their schools, the smell grew worse by the day. Then the CCP that they had given their sweat and time to, decided to dump raw garbage right next to their schools with maggots and flies and a foul stench as the CCP’s gratitude for the work these schools did for it. I can understand the anger of these schools, of the students and the teachers.

But I cannot understand the dumping of the garbage on the Mayor’s desk. Not just how the children managed to get inside the Mayor’s cabin, when the ordinary public is kept firmly out. Obviously doors were opened for them. The damage done to the children is more than the smell and the maggots near their schools. They have now learned that showing public disrespect to a respected institution, even though it is run by foolish, short-sighted people, gets support from their elders.

The Education Department was correct in its harsh reaction, what else could it do? The children have to learn that what they have done was wrong and has no place in the same civilized society they are trying to build. Also the Mayor and CCP are not to blame. The rest of Goa and tourists add to the garbage of Panaji, and the state government refuses to give the CCP space for waste management. The children should take their rage to the Governor, the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary and the Urban Development Ministry. The responsibility for the mess Panjim and Goa is in lies with these four offices of power.

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