Berhampur Offers Hope

The chutzpah, nerviness and forthrightness of Ganjam society is exemplary. Not many districts in India are so bountiful and yet tenacious in constantly enhancing last mile productivity, thrift and inclusiveness. Literature, agriculture, women entrepreneurship, films and entertainment, politics, freedom movement (India and Odisha), sports and everything else have a unique Ganjam stamp – intense, guileless ownership and non-obtrusive leadership.

Team Clean City (TCC) has changed the face of Brahmapur quietly and indelibly. This doesn’t look like a one-off initiative like the typical NGO programme done for funds or annual reports. Team Clean City is a band of volunteers which is on a mission to clean Brahmapur and reach out to the homeless, the abandoned or the publicly deserted mentally challenged.

It is good news that Team Clean City is not yet registered as an NGO. But in the last three years, their growth has been almost 30X. Since July 5, 2019, it has grown from five champions to about 150 champions today. If they expand their team and require constant flow of resources, they could start working on Projects as an NGO and that might ring the demise of volunteerism. The pro bono volunteerism of professionals from all walks of life – Dr Jaganmohan Mohapatro is a doctor, Rashmirekha is a housewife, Anjali & Suryananrayan are advocates, Jitendra and Rajesh work in public services – is what makes Team Clean City, Clean Volunteers first. A clean team can do Cleaning work.

TCC volunteers take on mountains of waste and years of apathy in one of Odisha’s most populous cities. Brahmapur, not long ago was notoriously filthy, riled as a ‘dirty city’ and a ‘stinking city’. As a first step, Sakti and his champions pulled out posters from city walls, houses and compounds. This probably gave the rallying point for the ‘indifferent city dwellers’ to join hands.

Even before joining hands, they took time to believe in the change and in the change doers. But Sakti and team raised a mission statement –  “Nija Ghara Nija Sahara Sapha Rakhiba” (Keep our house, our city clean). The zeal with which TCC committed itself to the cleaning work and executed from the front, stupefied the entire city and the district. News travelled and more joined the bandwagon.

The team literally dirtied their hands, cleaned drains, public places, rescued the homeless, cleaned them, rehabilitated them and helped accident victims. Through the driving rain, sweltering Brahmapur heat, volunteers start to trickle in from 8 am, putting on gloves, caps and raincoats and collecting and piling rubbish. The city walls are no more defaced with posters, writings, graffiti of all kinds. Not that some threatening phone calls didn’t come to Sakti. But he is rooted Brahmapuria and it is not easy bullying him or scuttle his mission. The journey has started unstoppable and unfailing.

TCC assists Berhampur Municipal Corporation (BeMC) in mopping up city waste. The once litigated, black hole of centuries of garbage, the 150-year-old Ramlingam Tank has been turned into an entertainment park, beyond imagination.

In many ways TCC has salvaged the reputation of Ganjam and Brahmapur as the origin of many social movements in Odisha. Wunnava Venkata Varaha Buchi Ramalingam, Pandit Ramalingam of Brahmapur was a revered teacher, dedicated freedom fighter and a social advocate. During his teaching career he pioneered an innovative style of student counselling including a feedback system to the guardians or parents at their homes. This was unique in India and unheard of then.

In 1927, he started a mobile bank in Ganjam and in 1929, opened a cooperative bank. His students included VV Giri (former President of India), B Jagannath Das (Supreme Court Judge and Chairman II Pay Commission) and former Chief Justice Lingaraj Panigrahi.

The movement is now at a stage where they are poised to guide similar initiatives in rest of Ganjam, Gajpati, Rayagada and Phulbani.

Urban development in Odisha needs support from civil society groups or organisations. We are aware of the stupor that the social sector (the formal NGO sector), in Odisha, is in. All the development works, comprehensively, is planned and undertaken by the governments, both the central government and the state government. TCC is an example of what city dwellers can do to their own habitations. TCC, knowingly or unknowingly is exemplifying an ideal PPPP – Public Private People Partnership.

Brahmapur possesses that indomitable X factor – silent, effectuator.

For Sakti & team, there is an apt line: If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity and let my efforts be known by their results.

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