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Cleanliness...

From: P.B. Anand (p.b.anand_at_Bradford.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Oct 14 1999 - 02:59:30 PDT

Dear Sriman Sampathkumaran :

Your feelings and genuine concern about cleanliness in 
temples is well-placed. However, adiyen may kindly be 
permitted to add my few cents' worth as some one whose 
doctoral research is on the subject of people's attitude to 
environmental problems (water and garbage) with Madras 
(Chennai) as focus. 

There are two different problems here. One concerns 
behaviour by regular users of temples. The other concerns 
behaviour by users who are not day-to-day users but 
occasional visitors. In a place like Tirupati, the latter 
is the bigger issue. In most smaller temples, the former is 
the issue.

In discussions on common prpoperty resources, this is 
referred to as incentive problem. A temple space or for 
that matter many public spaces are open access resources. 
While the people you refer to  throw the 'dunnai' or 
contribute to waste in the public spaces, they may be 
keeping their own houses clean (according to their 
standards). In both instances, they are behaving rationally 
(according to a narrow interpretation of rationality). 
There is no incentive to keep the public space clean - 
due to either a lack of a sense of ownership (that this 
space belongs to everyone including me), or a general 
belief that 'someone' will take care of it any way. 

I do not want to go into details but the solution to this 
problem is to correct the incentives. Regulation and 
coercion was thought to be the solution (Garet Hardin's 
1967 paper The Tragedy of Commons), but we know from 
experience that people themselves resolving the problem is 
better than regulation imposed in a top down fashion. 
Madras also has one of the best examples of such 
co-operative solution named Exnora. I do not know if your 
comments about Tiruvellikeni are based on today's 
experience but as far as my knowledge goes, there are 
several Civic Exnoras and an organisation called Srinivasa 
Young Men Association (or something like that) working near 
and around Parthasarathy temple area. These organisations 
together have transformed Tiruvallikeni area completely 
from the earlier one of garbage strewn locale to one of 
clean community. Also, adjacent to Tiruvallikeni temple, 
(in Peyalwar sannidhi street - if I am not wrong) there is 
a colony (like an agraharam) in a space belonging to a 
trust originally belonging to a devotee from Ayodhya. That 
entire colony is an example of how modern life can co-exist 
with vedic philosophy - they have again collectively 
organised water and sanitation in the entire colony. I am 
not making this up. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to 
find a discussion of this colony in VS Naipaul's book 
'India - A Million Mutinies Now' though the names of the 
persons have been changed. 

The same can be done in Tiruvallore or in fact anywhere. To 
form an organisation like Civic Exnora you need 
participation of all the people concerned. Example itself 
then acts as an instrument of change. Before asking people 
not to throw garbage we need to show them where it can be 
thrown. We need to make sure the garbage so collected is 
then disposed of properly. You will need the help of local 
municipal organisation for the purpose. 

>From my research, it was found that people in Madras in 
general (all walks of life) have a good understanding of 
environmental problems. But that awareness by itself fails 
to transform into action without appropriate institutions. 
There are good examples of how such institutions can be 
created and sustained without much difficulty.

If I have spoken too much, adiyen may kindly be forgiven.

Dasan
Anand
----------------------
P.B. Anand
p.b.anand@bradford.ac.uk