Less litter, more glitter
What once looked like a garbage dump has now been transformed into a clean and beautiful space with the efforts of Northern Railways and the Delhi Street Art Group
The walls facing the Sadar Bazar train yard, that were earlier partly covered with heaps of garbage, are now adorned with street art. “It feels so good now. Earlier, there used to be a huge garbage heap here,” says Shanti, a woman who lives in the nearby slum and takes that route every day for work.
She is talking about the newly painted walls facing the Sadar Bazar train yard, next to the railway tracks. The walls were painted as part of a beautification and cleanliness drive that was initiated by the Northern Railways two years ago.
The Delhi Street Art group, founded in 2013, was given responsibility for the beautification of the area. Along with the Sadar Bazar railway yard, the group has also painted the walls of New Delhi Railway Station — the side near the Minto Bridge. “When we first saw the space, we were not very sure if we could do what was required. There were huge piles of garbage. But the Northern Railways cleaned it up really fast. They washed the walls and gave them a fresh coat of white paint,” says Yogesh Saini, founder of the Delhi Street Art group.
Recounting what he first saw when he reached the Sadar Bazar train yard, he says that the sidewalk was barely visible as it was covered with garbage. Later, it was cleaned to allow Saini and team to paint the walls. He, along with his four-member team, worked on the project.
Prakash , who works in train pantries, says that the cleaniness drive has been going on for the last two years, and now they have finally managed to clean the stretch of about 300 metres bordered by about 15-20 feet high walls. Saini says that in light of Swachhta Pakhwara, the Northern Railways approached him, and his team enthusiastically took up the task.
Just when they started the work, onlookers — including many children from the vicinity – were curious, trying to figure out why the walls are being painted. Only some were bold enough to ask.
He recalls that an old lady, who lives nearby, told him that the area, including the walls, were in a shabby state and it felt unsafe. “But she was excited to see how beautiful and pleasing it looked after the walls were painted,” says Saini.
“You should’ve seen the area before we started painting the walls around 2-3 weeks back,” says a member of the art group, whose clothes were splattered with paint.
Another woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that the area looks far better than what it was before. Even when they were painting, people used to climb up to the parking lot to dump garbage, but this activity was later stopped.
The group incurred the cost of buying paints and other materials, including the payments for artists, but hopes to be reimbursed soon by Northern Railways.
The group has painted walls at several locations in Delhi, like the New Delhi Railway Station, Narela Railway Station, Rail Museum and many flyovers too. But it was not smooth sailing. PWD in its wisdom painted over their artwork under Moolchand Flyover using grey anti-carbonated paint that acts as a pollution retardant. They tried to get an answer from the PWD authorities regarding this, in vain.
When the MCD asked the group to paint the Hanuman Mandi flyover, the group was a little hesitant because of their previous experience with PWD. Later, PWD gave the go-ahead as long as they used the same quality of paint.
The cleanliness scenario at the entrance of the New Delhi Railway Station is not good either, with packets of chips, bottles, and other items thrown by the public at regular intervals, crying out for immediate steps.
“People have to understand the importance of clean surroundings. Such cleanliness drives will not be enough if they are not accompanied by our efforts. People should also be vigilant of their surroundings and do their part,” says an official from Northern Railways, who requested for anonymity.
Talking about the monthly expenses incurred on the materials that are bought, Saini says, “It reaches up to Rs 50,000 sometimes.” He says that they use different kinds of paints, brushes and sprays depending on the project the group is working on.
Soon, the group will leave to paint the walls of Allahabad, where the Ardh Kumbh Mela is going to be held in 2019. It’s a city-wide project, where the group will paint many walls in the city. “Spirituality, mythology, the Sangam, and multitude of people visiting and taking dips in Ganga,” says Saini, while talking about the themes that their paintings will depict.
Saini also explains that the elements play an important role in preserving street art — even after four years, the street art done by the group at the Shankar Market in Connaught Place still remains in a good condition.
According to him, cities are beginning to discover the creative opportunities which could make them even more stunning, and public spaces need to be more creative and engaging than they currently are. Permission is also a big hurdle for the group, as they require access to their future locations.“Ignorance is bliss and I just walk into offices seeking permission. They are surprised and sometimes we do not get their consent, but I remain hopeful,” he says.