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September 21, 2017

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Meet south Mumbai's spit inspector

MUMBAI--At a bus stop in south Mumbai, a man hawks loudly before expelling a mouthful of brown saliva into the road without a second thought — but unfortunately for him, the spit inspector is watching.

Rajeshree Rajaram Kamble, a 53-year-old grandmother dressed in a flowery tunic with matching blue shawl and trousers, strides towards her prey and firmly requests a fine of 200 rupees (US$3.60).

The man appears surprised by her finger-waggling admonishment, and says he does not have any money on him.

"You can wash it away," Kamble retorts, marching him to a nearby sugarcane juice stall to get some water. "If you don't wash it, then you can take off your clothes and clean it."

The man is still reluctant and their row gets increasingly heated.

Onlookers pause to watch as voices are raised — "Sorry is not enough!" Kamble insists — until the man relents and sheepishly rinses away the evidence.

For Kamble, such altercations are just part of the job. "Every day I fight with people," she told AFP. "Nobody is interested in paying the fine."

Working for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), she is one of 25 "nuisance detectors" taking on grown men and women every day over offences such as public littering, urinating and bathing on the street.

In such a dirty and overcrowded city, Kamble faces an uphill battle but refuses to admit defeat against habits such as spitting, which health experts believe may help to spread tuberculosis.

"Every time I see someone spitting, something happens inside me. My blood boils and I get very angry," said Kamble, who goes out on patrol armed with just a plastic identity tag and fine receipt book.

Spitting in a public place, unless a spittoon is provided, is banned under a 2006 Mumbai byelaw.

But across the country, many Indians spit regularly at street corners, out of car windows, onto and even inside buildings: few spaces are spared, especially from those who chew various mixtures of tobacco and areca nut.

In a boost for the anti-spit brigade, Maharashtra state — of which Mumbai is the capital — is among several states to recently ban "gutka," a mass-produced mix that is widely chewed and spat out, staining the streets.

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