Two women are on a mission to keep Bengaluru litter free, and their first stop is Lalbagh

Beautiful Bengaluru is spreading the “no-littering” message amongst the public.
Two women are on a mission to keep Bengaluru litter free, and their first stop is Lalbagh
Two women are on a mission to keep Bengaluru litter free, and their first stop is Lalbagh
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"What will you do with the chocolate wrapper?" Odette asked the young boy. 

"I will throw it in the dustbin," he replied, cautiously.   

"But what if you don't get a dustbin?" she persisted. 

"I will carry it until I spot a dustbin and then throw it."

Odette Katrak, a social activist and co-founder of the Beautiful Bengaluru (BB) initiative, smiled at the boy, who in turn looked relieved having answered the questions correctly. 

The ongoing annual flower show at the Lalbagh Botanical Garden in Bengaluru has been receiving thousands of visitors, with a whopping 85,0000 people attending the show on Republic Day on Thursday. 

Odette, along with other BB volunteers, has been spreading the "no littering" message among the masses thronging the public garden. 

"We want to make both visitors and vendors aware of their responsibilities. People need to be told to reduce waste. Carry your own bottles, carry your own bags. Do not litter," she said. 

"Our aim to make Lalbagh an eco-friendly, plastic-free and litter-free garden. We want to show that it is possible to have an event this big and still have the venue clean," she added. 

It was in January 2016 that Odette, along with Aparna Ponnappa- the latter runs a consulting firm in the city- started the Beautiful Bengaluru initiative. Aparna had visited the flower show at Lalbagh the previous year with her family and was appalled to see how dirty the place was. 

Aparna and Odette, who are former students of XLRI, Jamshedpur, pitched the idea of pledging the extra funds from their local alumni group towards making Lalbagh cleaner. 

"When I had first approached the garden authorities, they gave us responses like 'We don't know what to do' and 'it is the public that is littering'," said Aparna, who is also volunteering on the spot. 

Slowly and steadily, they got more members to support their cause including Hasiru Dala, a non-profit organization of waste pickers and other informal waste workers, the Namma Bengaluru Foundation and even St Joseph's college, whose students regularly volunteer for BB.  

"If we can solve the problem in Lalbagh, we can solve the problem in Bengaluru. Because Lalbagh is a microcosm of the city," Aparna said. 

BB, which has been working with park authorities, has been inviting volunteers to spread the message of a litter-free Lalbagh, and has received a warm response too. 

Volunteers can be seen holding placards with messages asking people to act responsibly, telling people to throw their ice-cream wrappers and corn cobs in the bins, and even picking up waste lying around in the park. Those violating the rules can be also be fined. 

"While there are smaller groups in the city which look into waste management, there are no such bodies that work towards litter awareness. Even the Swachh Bharat campaign is fairly recent," Oddette said. "We are interacting here with a large mass of people who also litter Bengaluru's roads. Our goal is to involve people. Every added person brings in more like-minded people. Also, while many may be interested in the cause, they may not know how to carry it out at an individual level."

The reactions, as Aparna described, have been varied. While many are happy to follow their instructions, there are also those who jump into an argument to prove their point. 

"Some will come to us and tell us 'You too are using plastic', pointing to the templates. Or say that 'Oh your bag has plastic' or 'Your shoe has plastic'. What they don't realise is the placards have been recycled and have been in use for three years now. I've also been using my shoes for many years now," Aparna said. 

Voluteers at the Beautiful Bengaluru photo booth in Lalbagh.

While authorities have become more open to suggestions over time, Aparna feels what is missing is collaborative work among smaller groups, such as Friends of Lalbagh, Lalbagh Walker's Association, corporates and them. 

The initiative, though still young and overcoming the occasional hiccups, is optimistic that a change is possible.

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