New Delhi: Many may not have heard of picturesque Pfutsero in Nagaland’s Phek district, the highest and the coldest point of the state at 2,133 metres above sea level.
But one Pfutsero resident is presenting a small but vital example of how individual effort can help keep civic facilities running even when the state machinery fails to deliver.
For the last six months, Pfutsero, home to about 13,000 people, has been reeling under a poorly run town council, particularly when it comes to picking garbage from the public dustbins across the town.
The BJP, which is part of the ruling Naga Peoples Front (NPF) government in the state, has been promoting a country-wide Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for a few years, but that is clearly having no impact in Pfutsero. For the last six months, people’s complaints about the garbage problem have led local officials to offer inane answers, for instance, that the vehicle used for the purpose had no good tyres to run it or its battery was drained.
“So typically, the garbage truck would come only once or twice a week to clear the dust bins. However, since the beginning of March, it stopped coming altogether, leading to lot of public distress. Apart from dirty sights, people have begun to worry about catching diseases because of waste lying openly but the local administration has been quiet about it,” Kupelhi Losou, a well-known resident of the town and head of civil society organisation Kalos Society, told The Wire from Pfutsero.
However, help came from unexpected quarters.
On the morning of March 25, town resident and Nagaland Police constable Neingupe Marhu drove his Maruti minivan to one public dustbin and began shifting the garbage to dump it at the site the town council had been using. That day, he went to the dump site, situated about three kms from the centre of the town, as many as 21 times. Since that day, for over a week now, Marhu has been making about 14 to 15 such trips every day.
“I would see the dustbins overflowing with garbage on my way to work and back every day. I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought I am a public servant, why not I do something instead of complaining about it and waiting for the town council to wake up to it,” Marhu told this correspondent. “So every day, for the last one week, I have been picking up garbage before my duty starts in the morning and then after work,” he said.
With no elections to the urban local bodies (ULBs) being held for years in the state, the town council has been more or less non-functional. There has also been allegations of corruption and misuse of funds against the Pfutsero town council. In January, keeping the impending ULB elections in mind, the existing town council was dissolved and services were put under the direct supervision of the additional district commissioner (ADC) of Pfutsero.
With violent protest against the 33% reservation fpr women candidates in the ULB elections forcing the government to stall the polls (it also led to change of the chief minister), the ADC’s office continues to supervise the municipal services.
Even though public inconvenience have been widely reported in local newspaper, the ADC’s office is yet to act.
Losou said, “Marhu’s marvelous act, has meanwhile, made him a hero in the town”.
“At a time when not just in Nagaland but in many parts of the country public servants use government vehicles even for their private work, Marhu is certainly an aberration. Since he has been using his own money for fuel too, people of the town are grateful to him and have begun handing him whatever small amount they can to help him reimburse that expense,” he said.
He also pointed out, “The administration is yet to respond to the issue but people like Marhu needs to be celebrated because they are the actual Swachh Bharat Abhiyan heroes.”
Employed with Nagaland Police for the last seven years, 27-year-old Marhu gets a monthly salary of about Rs 20,000. “It is not the money but my duty towards my town that is what pushes me to do what I am doing. Now that so many people are talking about my work, not just me but my child and my wife are very happy about it too,” said Marhu. “Three days ago,” he related, “our district police superintendent gave me an award of Rs 300 for my good work.”
The Wire has made many attempts to contact the office of Pfutseo ADC Sangmai C. Imlong but failed to get a response.