Ever since the “Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan” was initiated by the Prime Minister, there have been many initiatives at the local level, where people have been trying to make a difference – a positive one. In one of our previous stories, we had published an interview with Temsutula Imsong – who is working on cleaning the Prabhughat in Varanasi. In this post, we would like to introduce you to Gaurang Damani – an Electronics engineer from Mumbai. He is an active BJP member and has set up an NGO “Die Hard Indian” in 2000. Since then he has been involved in many cleaning up and renovation initiatives.
OpIndia.com got an opportunity to have a written interview with Gaurang to know about him and his activities.
1. Many of us have not heard about you or your work. Can you please introduce yourself?
I am 43 years old Mumbaikar, staying with parents and wife, Jayshree and 2 children Ria and Shlok. I am an Electronics Engineer from Mumbai University and was ranked 7th (1993). I have worked with Tata Unisys and UB group. However, I am self-employed since 1997. My work took me to USA in 1994, where I lived till my return in 2002.
2. Since when have you/your organization been involved in these activities?
I started diehardindian.com in Feb 2000 and returned to India in 2002, as I had the urge to contribute back to society. Our email monthly newsletter now goes out to over 7,000 local residents. diehardindian.com gets over 300,000 unique visitors every year – it functions to provide information to citizens on various government-related interactions, thus reducing the chances of corruption. I would like to believe that www.diehardindian.com is India’s first eGovernance website.
I have also shown interest in many civic activities. For instance, I was a co-organizer of rallies in support of Anna Hazare’s “India Against Corruption” movement in Matunga (1,500 and 400 attendance).
3. There are many issues that are troubling in Mumbai. What made you choose the King’s Circle railway station as your project for cleaning?
I have taken up several other civic issues in the past like the beautification of Maheshwari Udyan (with MMRDA, 2011), beautification of area under Sion circle flyover (with MSRDC, 2013), several tree plantation drives (with BMC) and so on. I have also won a PIL against BMC in the Bombay High court for shifting of 55 garbage trucks and its chowky from a residential area and got over 6000 pledges from local area school and college students (since 2010) that they will keep their surroundings clean and show respect for the environment clean.
I was also writing to and interacting with Central Railways for getting King’s Circle station cleaned (as it was very dirty). Mr George Eapen (Officer from CR) called me asking me to take the cleaning up task (instead of writing complaints). And hence I took it up as a challenge. Of course, the other factor was that the station was local and was part of my network.
4. You must have faced many challenges. Can you list some of them? What kept you moving during tough times?
At the station, the challenge or frustration was to see stuff like flower pots stolen, people tearing informational posters, people spitting on painted walls and so on. But one of our donors told me a very nice thing – that be mentally prepared for 10% damages and be physically prepared to re-do that part of the work. This advice has helped me in managing my frustrations to a large extent.
5. Have you seen change in behavior of Mumbaikars in the way they maintain cleanliness at King’s Circle station, after your project?
Yes, King’s Circle station is much cleaner now – I see a lot more people throwing garbage in the dustbins that we have provided. Fewer people urinate at the station premises (as we have painted a lot of the walls, which has also greatly reduced the instances of people spitting on the wall). One thing I did notice was that people spit on painted walls, but generally do not spit on walls which have some art on it.
Of course, we also do have a cleaning staff who sweeps everyday!
6. Did you approach any local politicians or corporate houses for help? How did they respond to your call?
For the King’s Circle station, luckily I did not have to approach any corporate house. Through the diehardindian.com network, we had over 550+ volunteers giving their time and a lot of donors contributing financially (mostly in kind). Only because of the donors and volunteers help, this project succeeded (they are all listed in this youtube video at the end).
Our local Shiv Sena Member of Parliament (MP) Shri Rahul Shewale ji, nominated me for the DRUCC (Divisional Railway User’s Consultative Committee) membership in June 2015. So that has helped me monitoring changes on a regular basis.
7. Did you face hurdles in getting approvals from the Railways? How did they help you?
Railways authorities have been of tremendous help, right from giving the permission to day-to-day coordination. For instance, for increasing the safety of commuters, we got 30 street lights installed/ started, out of which Railways installed 10 street lights and BEST provided for about 15 lights.
We also got good help from our local BMC ward office, for disposing a few trucks full of debris.
8. Now that the first step has been made, how do you plan to maintain the cleanliness of the station?
We did not want this to be a one-off one-day cleanliness event. The station is already being maintained on a daily basis, since December 2014. We have permission to do this till December 2015.
9. There must be many interesting incidences during the cleaning project. Please share some of those with us?
When commuters saw school children painting walls or grills, they would stop and help. Some of our volunteers were just local commuters who saw the changes evolving and were motivated to join in.
10. What are your next projects?
Both Central and Western Railways has requested for us to take up another station. So based on our volunteers availability, we may take up another nearby station.
11. How would you like other interested people to join your mission?
Please take up a project in your local area. You can start with a small project and complete it. That way you will get people more involved. Government officials will help you, if they see your good intentions, but you have to be very persistent.
Do not worry about the funding – there are many donors wanting to fund good honest problem-solvers.
Let us try our best to make our India – a Swachh Bharat!
OpIndia.com asked Gaurang to share some of the before/after photos for our readers. We have premission to have them here.
PS: We first read about Gaurang’s work here