Ambassador of Clean India Amala Akkineni, a well-known actress from South India, also a Bharathanatyam dancer and the wife of famous actor Nagarjuna, has been doing the cleaning role for a long time now. In an exclusive interview with Vijayalakshmi Sridhar, she talks about the need to create awareness for a clean and green lifestyle, collectively being responsible for waste disposal and management, her belief in PM’s Make in India and Build Toilet schemes
Away from the limelight, Amala Akkineni joined hands with many NGOs and started working for animal safety and surrogacy, co-founded the Blue Cross of Hyderabad and also campaigned for environmental conservation.
As the Ambassador of Clean India, it is unlike any other role you may have played on the screen.
It is an honour to be the Ambassador for Clean India and it is a much bigger role. Every alternate Saturday I team up with an NGO and a college and a ladies group or resident welfare association, to clean a dirty area in the city for two hours. The Municipal officers, workers and people who get inspired join us. There is a great effort that goes in and the results are wonderful. The only tool we use to clean the street is a pair of rubber gloves to protect our hands and an old sack to collect the trash in. It is amazing to see the number of sacks we fill in two hours time and then load them on to the municipal trucks.
How do you plan to excel in this real time role of spreading the message of cleanliness and hygiene?
Our goal is to create a culture where keeping the surroundings clean and picking up trash to deposit in the appropriate place is considered the norm and followed by everyone with dignity. Inculcate a culture whereby each one takes pride in keeping the streets clean.
How far are you inspired and involved in such clean and green initiatives of your own?
Besides the alternate Saturday cleaning between 8 and 10am, I have been cleaning up dirty places for many years, advocating composting and promoting organised door to door garbage collection. This is nothing new to me. I love doing this and take pride in it. No fanfare while working. Since 2006, I have been working with Suzuki-Exnora’s Clean India drive, have supported workshops with municipal corporations on solid waste management, waste to wealth initiatives for recycling, and through Blue Cross have organised stray animal sterilisation.
At present, the focus is on unearthing the truths hidden behind urban garbage. Most garbage dumps in colonies or suburbs are being used as public toilets. Unless public toilets are made available, these garbage dumps will continue to remain. Another issue that we are witnessing is the discriminatory attitude towards waste management. A large majority of people believe they have the right to throw garbage as they pay taxes and sweepers are obligated to clean garbage. The sweepers are treated in a very derogatory manner, shouted at and humiliated. They are not allowed to use public toilets nor are given water to drink.
To me Swacch Bharat is much bigger – to clean up the muck in the human mind, remove discrimination, prejudice and negativity towards each other and enable dignity of labour. India has a long way to go in this respect.
What are the other initiatives that you have spearheaded?
Apart from the two hour cleaning which ends with a lighter moment along with some refreshments, work appreciation and some laughs, we also address grave matters. In many cases we resolve local disputes through discussions and dialogue, pacify angry neighbours who litter each others’ property, help them find solutions to blocked nalas and external defecation, and connect them to the authorities like any civilised society should function.
Do you think India can be cleaned through this campaign?
Absolutely. All the changes that have started are planned efforts. Every one must keep Clean India efforts in focus, discuss and highlight successful ways to work together to solve garbage and public amenity issues, until it burns like a fire through every Indian street, mobilising change. The time has come !
In terms of clean and green achievements, as a nation, from your perspective, what do we lack? Where can the inspiration and influence start from?
Well, we hide behind poverty and allow millions to live in despicable conditions and continue to propagate the cycle of misery. How is it possible that after all the efforts, majority of the girls do not go to school, get married off at 15 and have children by the age of 16? As a nation, we must not sit back and allow this. Indians must make sacrifices to share the burden of uplifting the rest of India. We can spend less on our weddings and support the education of the girl child, her vocational training and upliftment instead. Where the girl child has been educated there is a huge drop in population and where she is empowered, there will be a decline in both population and poverty. Containing our numbers, educating our citizens and providing better and sustainable living conditions will be a big step. The more we value our resources the less we will pollute.
Waste disposal and collection has been a major challenge. How do you think a system can be brought into place?
Solid waste management is a challenge for every municipal corporation. For a better future, we simply have to produce less waste, be more responsible consumers, compost our kitchen waste and recycle the rest. There is no other way! Initiating a policy discussion in taking it to the grassroots level with orientation workshops will be a good way to start. Simple doable solutions go a long way for sustainable urban living.
How empowered and ready are our youth to shoulder the responsibility of Make in India and Clean India?
I am honoured to be part of my family’s legacy. Heading Annapurna International School for Film and Media for a year now has been very exciting and we have very inspiring professional goals for the next two to five years. The future generations are very smart and well informed. I have great hope and I am sure they will benefit greatly from all that we do and share with them.