"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
It all started on October 2, 2014, with Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Puneet Sharma from Pune knew the success of such an initiative would depend on active participation by all citizens and hence decided to do his bit. In the wee hours of October 9, 2014, he left a Facebook status urging his friends to join him in the endeavour.
Wing Commander Puneet Sharma is a veteran who was commissioned into the Airforce on June 14, 1989. A former fighter pilot, he has to his credit about 9,000 hours of flying experience on various fighter as well as commercial aircrafts. Presently, he is flying for SpiceJet as Captain on Boeing 737 NG.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a campaign by Narendra Modi, aimed to clean up the country’s roads, streets and infrastructure, both in urban and rural areas, between 2014 and 2019. Puneet and his team held their first event at Pune railway station on October 12, 2014.
“I knew that a place like Pune Station will give us an opportunity to leave an impact on a greater number of commuters. Visual change being one of the most impactful requirements for rewiring the brain, we believed that on seeing fellow citizens cleaning their trash, the commuters will be compelled to rethink before littering the place,” Puneet said in a conversation with The Logical Indian.
On October 19, 2014, Puneet’s Facebook page on the campaign came into being and they began posting about stories with ‘before and after’ pictures. They started observing the erring individuals and made efforts to correct them. On the following Sundays, they made numerous attempts to sensitise vendors and commuters alike. They visited all major stations and bus stops.
“To attract more youngsters to the cause, we decided to add pleasure to business. Sinhgad cleanup was one such event which had adventure, action and entertainment. This helped us motivate a lot of youngsters,” he said.
Puneet’s page on Facebook started creating a buzz and many Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives started following their activities and came forward to support them. With corporate support and permission from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), they conducted a drive to clean up and beautify paan-stained walls.
“By the third month, we came across quite a few groups that had started acting on the same lines in different parts of the city. Commonality of objective many a time brought us together for this greater cause. A cohesion in various teams came in handy to achieve some mega projects. Among them, Magarpatta flyover pillars and the Deccan bus stop are beautiful examples of synergy achieved by the coming together of different groups,” he said.
Their efforts, which included cleaning hills, parks and canals, were much appreciated by their followers on Facebook. All cleaning activities on various hills in the city led to sacks full of plastic trash, which they started giving to Ruddra Environmental Solutions for converting into poly fuel. Seeing them, many morning walkers started tagging along to contribute in these activities.
“This has been one of the most encouraging outcomes. While working on these projects we decided to take the Swachh message to PMC-run schools. The idea was to engage young kids. The painting of templates gave us an opportunity to give them a colourful environment along with educating them about our rich cultural heritage. Their prayer area was painted with pictures of freedom fighters, play area dedicated to sports personalities and washroom area with templates addressing personal health and hygiene issues. An approach is being implemented to accelerate the process by creating awareness through flash mobs and street plays,” he said.
The group brought several NGOs and social groups together to create mega events for a meaningful impact across the length and breadth of the city. On August 13, 2017, ‘Puneri Abhiman Swachh Pune Nirmaan’ was one such event where nearly 20 NGOs and social groups tagged along to overhaul the initial target set of 70 events all over the city. They ended up organising nearly 80 events across the PMC and PCMC limits with more than 1,500 volunteers taking part in this mega drive. During the campaign, they took up beautification of seven flyovers and as many PMC-run schools along with spot fixes and cleanliness drives.
“In another unique gesture, we chose to felicitate nearly 7,000 Swachh workers of the Pune city, appreciating their efforts at giving us a clean and disease-free environment. This was done on October 2, 2017, to mark the third anniversary of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” he said.
Lately, their group has started unique campaigns in buses, where they welcome passengers on behalf of state transport. “We cover the route details and seek passengers’ support and their contribution to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan by asking them not to litter the bus and not to throw anything out of the windows,” he said.
Besides this, the team created Pune Mega Canvas wherein they took up beautification of nearly a two-km long wall on new airport road. It took them five long months to paint the 300 panels carrying social messages. With these drives, they have managed to spread the message of Swachh Pune Swachh Bharat among a large audience.
“There has been selfless service by one and all associated with the cause. Consistency, patience and perseverance will always pay. The ‘two is a team’ concept has led to nil break till now. Each member of the team has been an inspiration for rest of the team, and clarity in our thoughts and sincerity of purpose got us support from all quarters. Active public participation on most of the occasions, including spot fixes has been a great support for us. Many spot fixes were achieved with active participation of PMC ward officers, and collaborations with CSR initiatives helped meet material resource requirements.
“Not all situations need government intervention. Take an analogy of fire breaking out in your house. I am sure no one is going to wait for the government to come and douse the fire. In the same way, I wish all of us start reacting to the filth we see around. To realise the dream of Swachh Bharat, ‘WE’ are important. But it has to start with ‘I’. I will Initiate and create the India of my dreams. It may or may not happen in my lifetime, but the trees that give us shade on the roadside were planted by unknown Samaritans. Similarly, our work now will create a better India and a better world for our grandchildren,” he said.
We keep complaining of pollution around us, but how many of us have really done our bit? Puneet, instead of complaining, has worked to bring about a change, and The Logical Indian salutes him and his team for their honest effort.
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