Clean-up marshals have appeared on the city streets intermittently since 2007. Brought in to levy fines on those littering and spitting, these marshals got embroiled in a controversy of corruption and extortion in 2011. They were revived in 2016, and came back in a new avatar after the Covid-19 pandemic to fine citizens without masks. Nearly 750 of them have been appointed at key locations like railway stations, tourist places and bus stops to enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour, extracting Rs 200 as fine from violators. While on the one hand is the allegation of high-handedness and corruption, on the other hand is their own rightful harrowing experience facing the violators. Abusive behaviour at the hands of citizens is just one such experience. As part of FPJ’s weekly series, we meet Mahesh Bhagat, 23, a clean-up marshal who shows the rule book to citizens from 9.30 am to 6 pm every day.
Q. How do you start your day?
I have been working as a clean-up marshal since 2018. I report at the R-Central ward office in Borivali at 9.30 and pick up the receipt book. No specific areas are assigned; we work on our own and catch as many people as possible for violating the mask rule or littering and spitting in public. In some wards, areas are assigned. Once on field, our day starts with humiliation and ends with insults. Even if we are honest, people call us looters. I work until 6 pm, with two breaks – an hour-long lunch break and a short tea break. At the end of the day, I submit duplicate receipts of fines collected throughout the day.
Q. Why did you choose to become a clean-up marshal?
I was in First-year BCom and then dropped out from college due to a financial crisis. The ward office is near my house, so I heard that they were hiring and applied for the position. It has been four years now.
Q. How much do you earn in a month?
This is the saddest part; we have no fixed salary. We get 20 per cent of the total fine we collect every month. So the earnings depend on the fines collected.
Q. What kind of problems do you face while on duty?
Despite so much awareness generated by the BMC and repeated warnings, people wear masks the wrong way. Others just ignore and roam around without masks. When we stop them, they make excuses – the most common being trouble breathing, and that they have removed it just for a minute. The worst part is, many just start abusing us.
Q. Have you ever been abused?
Yes. The treatment which we get from the public sometimes is beyond imagination. When caught spitting in public or not wearing a mask, some people refuse to pay and create a ruckus. Others abuse us, push us and leave. Many create a scene, gather the public and insult us, calling us looters and thieves. We have a hard time convincing the public. Sometimes, we have to threaten them and drag them to the police, who are our only saviours in situations like these. Recently, we have started taking pictures and videos of offenders, which stands as proof.
Q. Many clean up marshals were caught red-handed for corruption and are accused of being high-handed…
I believe there are good people and bad people. There are honest officials and there are also corrupt officials. Likewise, not all clean-up marshals are corrupt. I do my job and there are many others I know who do the same. We collect fines and give receipts.
Q. Do you ever regret being a clean-up marshal?
I have no option. I am a college dropout. But I don’t regret being a clean-up marshal; it’s our social responsibility to discourage people from spitting and littering in public, as well as ensure masks are worn at all times.