Whither Clean Culture?
Cities cannot be clean and healthy as aspired unless there is a responsible civic sense in all the denizens. There are two aspects to maintaining urban cleanliness, urban beauty and glory: civilised manner on the part of the citizens and legal enforcement. The former is born out of legacy, culture, education and self discipline. The latter is necessary when there are tendencies to cross moral and cultural boundaries. When values, faith, moral boundary and sense of responsibility erode, bad practices as littering public places need to be regulated through legislation. In our context, we seem to be living in a situation where civic sense of accountability is degrading and fitting legal measures are yet to take shape and get implemented. Our religions taught us that making the road dirty or polluting a river are the activities amounting to sin. Throwing waste or spitting in and around the shrines was perceived as an offence to gods and goddesses. These clean cultures were embedded in public manner widely which contributed to keep our surroundings clean and healthy. It was widely believed that people who littered the roads or soiled temples, shrines, water source or rivers would get incurable diseases. It was also a religious norm that trees growing around the temples should not be harmed or cut down. This civilised culture and clean practices based on faith started to degrade when even government authorities did not hesitate to empty sewer lines into holy rivers like the Bagmati in the capital.
As clean cultures slowly vanished and population pressure increased in the urban areas including the capital valley, managing waste and maintaining healthy environment has become challenging. The pioneering blunder was committed when the state organs showed that it is possible to empty the pipelines of human waste into the sacred rivers. The open committing of ‘sin’ by the state not only turned the holy rivers into open sewers but also helped to erode the faith-based clean public behaviour. What policy the state authorities adopt becomes gradually acceptable and is established as a norm. That is why many people no longer consider peeing on the bank of the Bagmati or soiling a shrine as a sin. That is why our public places including the holy sites have witnessed increased littering and pollution. Had the responsible government authorities paid heed to direct the sewer lines down the banks of the sacred rivers of the capital instead of emptying them into the holy water, public perception regarding clean culture would have been positively different. The people would probably be still believing that urinating on the bank of the holy Bagmati is a sin. But when such glorious beliefs are eroding, it becomes relevant to formulate necessary laws to punish the violators and keep our environment clean and healthy. In this regard bad decisions made in the past at the official level need to be corrected.