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Kolkata’s Beautification Project: Something We Must Welcome

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By Sapan Parekh:

Next time you want to visit London, there is no need to catch an international flight. Just hop on a train to the “City of Joy”, Kolkata.

If Mamata Banerjee has her way, Kolkata will be soon be transformed into London with an integrated system involving road, rail and river transport facilities, cultural centers, an open air theatre, a giant Kolkata-eye (yes, it’s a London Eye-like structure) and even a ropeway (surpassing London in this case). Also, it is not only the city which would be given a face lift but even the Hooghly River,which has turned into an eyesore, will be re-developed to create a spectacle similar to the Thames.

A pilot project has already been launched involving one-kilometre-stretch of the Hooghly’s banks. Cleaning the area up, paving pathways, planting trees and building cultural and sports activity centers around it will beautify this. Probably realising that such a herculean task was beyond the technical expertise of Kolkata administration, Mamata Banerjee has even sought the cooperation of the British High Commission for the project.

But this remodeling of the city on the lines of London would be with a significant difference. Unlike London, Kolkata would have a uniform colour code of blue-and-white; with the parks, road railings, flyovers, taxis and even tree trunks being repainted in the new colour combination. The government has also decided to re-paint all state-owned buildings in blue-white. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation also has considered giving property tax rebate to the citizens if they follow the colour blend while redoing the exteriors of their homes.

All these initiatives are being coordinated together by the Public Works Development, the Urban Development ministry, Indian Railways, RITES,  Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).

But all his hoopla has set tongues wagging. People have accused Mamata Banerjee of squandering public funds on beautification projects while sweeping the issue of the ballooning deficit under the carpet. Many have compared her to Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, the sultan of Delhi, who was known for his eccentric ideas, which failed more often than they succeeded. They have also accused the government of misplaced priorities; given Kolkata’s dilapidated infrastructure, the ever-growing slums, the noxious pollution and the crippling public transport system. Some are also miffed at the uniform colour code being forced upon the city, which is well known for its cultural heritage and rich diversity.

But let us stop and think for a second. Is all this criticism justified? YES to an extent and NO if we look at the broader picture.

First, what is the need to spend 500 crores on a beautification project rather than on poverty eradication, education and healthcare, or not spending at all to reduce the deficit?

Such an argument is very superficial and misleading. The amount being spent on beautification is just 2% of the state budget for 2011-12. What deficit could be reduced with 2% cut in spending! Further, admittedly the money being spent is not miniscule and the problems of poverty and education are not secondary. But have we not been spending money on eradication of poverty and on education for the past 65 years. Poverty eradication measures in reality, howsoever much human right advocates would like to disagree, is like an endless pit. Even if you pour all the budget money into these measures it just wouldn’t solve this problem overnight. They are long-term problems, which require long-term solutions involving spending money in appropriate amounts every year.

So after all these years can we not spare some money on beautification of the city just to make it generally “livable” and beautiful? And above all, the money on this beautification is not being diverted from the necessary social sector spending, but has been made available due to increment in the budget.

Why is this important? Important! I say it is Necessary. Back in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi called Kolkata (Calcutta then) a dying city (some people find it truer today). Add to that 32 years of inept and unimaginative CPI rule, and this facelift becomes more than just important; it becomes necessary.

Also we should appreciate the choice of development works. Though some of the choices are debatable, (like the Kolkata-eye) but overall, the re-development would involve enhancing the transportation facilities, cleanliness and the city’s value as a tourist attraction. Compare this to what Mayawati did with public money (too infamous to be mentioned) and I am sure we would thank our stars for what Mamata Banerjee is doing (or not doing for that matter).

The decision to paint the city in a colour combination is controversial, to say the least, and everyone can have an opinion about its value-addition to the city’s image (or the lack thereof). But what is commendable is the reason behind the choice of the colour. Blue has not been chosen so as to publicise the party, but has been chosen because the colour is soothing and that it is identifiable with the motto of the government- “sky is the limit”. 

Thus, all in all, we should welcome the announcements made by Mamata Banerjee, if not for her grand plans then for her good intentions, given that it is likely that all her plans could go the Indian Railways way.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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