Agra, July 10 - Agra's civic body chief is determined to clean up the city of the Taj Mahal, India's number one tourist attraction.
Municipal Commissioner Shyam Singh Yadav is a busy man, constantly thinking of new ways to give the city a new shine and urging residents to join in the drive, now that the Taj has made it to the new 'seven wonders of the world' list too.
Yadav, who is also a shooting coach, says that sweepers alone cannot give Agra a new look. 'Everyone has to join the drive,' Yadav told IANS.
The municipal corporation has launched a massive cleanliness campaign after dividing the city into different sectors - with one officer in charge of each unit.
Agra, which should otherwise have been a showpiece tourist city, has shocked visitors for its litter-filled streets and pervasive squalor. Yadav has been to Hyderabad, cities in Gujarat, and abroad too to acquire insights into how civic problems are resolved.
'Our biggest problem is manpower shortage. How can a city as big as Agra be kept clean with just 2,700 sweepers and three dumper trucks? The city has a fairly extensive network of large and open drains that need continuous cleaning. We definitely need more machines and more men to make the city clean,' Yadav said in the interview at his office.
Another major problem, he points out with a tinge of sadness, is lack of civic consciousness.
'People don't cooperate. Polythene bags are littered all over, choking drains. When we clean the drains, all kinds of things like pillows, charpoys and even utensils are recovered. The drains are not meant to be dumping grounds of wastes,' he said with some disgust.
Yadav recently conducted a cleanliness operation in Gulmohar Colony on Shamshabad Road where he urged residents to join him in his drive.
'I asked people to join me after some started lodging complaints and making all kinds of suggestions. At first they hesitated, but then some people came forward. Within minutes we were able to remove encroachments to clean up the drains. That's how people in other areas should also be doing,' he said.
Yadav now wants to activate local committees and resident welfare associations (RWAs).
'People should get involved not only in lodging complaints but also in helping and cooperating with our efforts to ensure regular cleaning.'
How does Yadav, essentially a sportsperson, tackle the complicated and messy problems that come with running a civic body?
Yadav, his aides say, manages controversies and problems sportingly. He has completed two years in office - a rare feat as hardly two or three of his predecessors have survived that long in the last 50 years.
And although he has had his share of controversies, Yadav insists he has emerged stronger after each one of them. His passion for promoting shooting in Agra landed him trouble last year when he built a shooting range near the Yamuna river and organised a national level shooting tournament there.
Yadav also set up the Taj Municipal Museum at the John's Public Library in Paliwal Park - considered one of his major achievements.
'It was Yadav's initiative that saw a dream being translated into reality. The city badly needed a museum and what better place than the library that Yadav had upgraded and improved?' one official said.
The museum houses a dozen antique items now but officials hope it will grow in stature soon.
The municipal commissioner is also credited with dramatically improving communication links between his officials and the people of Agra.
'He provided mobile phones to all the officials and lower level functionaries. His keen interest in e-governance and data collection has definitely helped create a better ambience for work. He is a man with a vision,' said Ravi Singh, a social activist.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Yadav has also been successful in building a workable and friendly rapport with the sweepers.
'He has got the right mix and is not afraid to take on even the mighty and resourceful people in Agra,' said Netra Pal Singh, also a social activist. 'We want him to succeed.'
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