It was just another day for Vipul Aggarwal. “I was travelling in a cab, and at a signal I saw a lady in another cab roll down her window to throw toffee wrappers on the road. I was taken aback. I got off my cab and urged the lady to pick up the wrappers and contribute to keeping the streets clean,” he recalls.
Vipul, 24, knew that while he’d been successful that one time, he would witness this scenario over and over again in the future. He knew the problem was bigger and canvassing to people in each vehicle on the road wasn’t a feasible solution. This incident pinched more because he felt that finally, when the Central and State governments were being environment-conscious with initiatives like Swachch Bharat and Delhi’s odd-even rule, the common man who gains the most from these drives continues to be reckless.
Vipul’s friends Nikhil Gupta, 24 and Somvir Solanki, 23 joined him to brainstorm. They all hold bachelor’s degrees in technology from Indraprastha University. The trio has been involved in the social sector for a long time, with Vipul starting out when he was just 16. They also co-founded ‘My City’, an NGO that focusses on environmental issues back, in 2013. With cleanliness as one of the pillars, My City started an initiative in Sikkim, is now working in Delhi NCR, and aims to expand pan-India in conjunction with Government of India.
The trio began surveying the problem and began meeting auto-rickshaw drivers and cabbies. The drivers told them many passengers littered the vehicle or the streets. With the risk of upsetting the passenger or getting a bad rating from the customer, most drivers kept quiet. Vipul, Nikhil, and Somvir came to a conclusion that the solution had to be one that encouraged the customer to embrace cleanliness, and helped the driver as well.
They finally zeroed in on –providing a recyclable carry bag inside the taxi or autorickshaw. For the next four months, they piloted the solution with the help of friends and family to check success, feasibility and scalability against their checklist.
Vipul says, “We had to talk to many people, including taxi unions, taxi and autorickshaw drivers and many people in government departments to ensure we had their permission, and to take their views on the concept.” With the kinks ironed out, it was now time to put the plan to work.
The trio named the initiative ‘My City – It is our city, let us keep it clean’. Vipul says the name had been inspired by a psychology study from an American university, which stated, “Whenever you make anything personal to an individual, he/she is bound to take it seriously.”
My City has installed over 100 bags in cabs and autorickshaws, and the number continues to grow each day. The cabbies and autorickshaw drivers have welcomed the initiative that has helped mitigate the long-standing issue of passengers littering their vehicles. At the end of the day, the drivers can dump the contents of the bag in a government-authorised garbage collection centre.
Currently, the money to produce the bags is from the trio’s personal savings, which can’t be sustainable in the longer run. “We are beginning advertising on these bags. There are many organisations that want the visibility, and what better than a passenger looking straight at it! Our details are on the bag for people to reach us,” Vipul explains.
He adds, “Since we began operations at the NGO, we’ve been associated with different organisations, ranging from startups to a few Fortune-500 companies, for various initiatives. It benefits them as well. We showcase the name of the organisation on the bag, which advertises the organisation widely in the eyes of public, while at the same time protecting the environment.” They hope to now collaborate with the government as well.
The vision these young boys have is extremely clear: they want to make India the cleanest country in the world, one city at a time. While that might be an extremely lofty goal, their philosophy is a rather pragmatic and thought-provoking one: “We hope that people, on viewing the bags, will view economy as part of the ecology and not the other way around,” they add.
Featured image: Shutterstock