Friday, November 22, 2019

Posted at: Jun 16, 2019, 2:29 AM; last updated: Jun 16, 2019, 2:29 AM (IST)

Eco-warriors across the country

From the common man to corporate houses, everyone is trying to do their bit to save Mother Nature
Eco-warriors across the country
Starting young: Children from four to 15 years are taught free of cost in Akshar Forum School in Pamohi, near Guwahati. The only ‘fee’ they are required to pay is to collect 10 to 20 items of dry plastic waste per week with a pledge to not burn plastic. Photo: AFP

Gaurav Kanthwal

At the Padma Awards ceremony this year, 105-year-old Saalumarada Thimmakka of Karnataka instinctively put her hand over President Ram Nath Kovind’s forehead after he bestowed her with country’s third highest civilian award for exceptional work in the field of environment. Outwardly, the old lady’s gesture meant benevolence, but in symbolic terms, it reflected the blessings of Mother Nature to the entire country for being receptive to environment conservation.

Saalumarada Thimmakka, who could not bear a child, started planting banyan saplings when she turned till 40 along with her husband Sri Bikkala Chikkayya and tended to these like her children. Once childless, she had nearly planted 400 of these saplings along a 5-km stretch from Kudur to Hulikal in a few years’ time. More than six decades later, she has lost count of the number, the only thing she remembers is that they give her happiness.

Thimmakka’s inspirational story is illustrative of the fact that environment is as intrinsically linked to our society as our children. But it is the man’s inconsiderate needs and his greed that finally prevail. 

Rural activism

It is but natural to see active environment conservation in rural India more than the urban elites who are limited to creating awareness only.

Village folks in Bancha, a small village in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh, have taken the lead in going smoke-free. Here, all 75 houses have shunned firewood for cooking. They have shelved LPG cooking tops, instead they have switched entirely to solar-powered stoves.

Social activist Mohan Nagar, a member of an NGO, Bharat-Bharti Shiksha Samiti, says, “It is a small, tribal village on a hilltop which has been twice awarded for Swachhta Abhiyan. Collecting firewood is a thing of past here and so is using LPG, people are happy with solar-powered stoves. These are economical, easy to use and time-saving. Sensing people’s interest, we took the help of the Central government and IIT Mumbai and got the project operational in December 2018. We also have installed five thermal stoves devised by NIT Kurukshetra for the community kitchen.”

In Varanasi, a 17-year-old Sakshi staged a symbolic strike this year sitting under the blazing sun for six days. She deliberately chose the month of May, arguably the hottest month of the year, to highlight our growing dependence on air conditioners and their adverse impact on environment.

Plastic free is the fee

If Sakshi is the lone ranger in the holy city, the amazing duo of Parmita Sarma, an MA in Social Work from Tata Insititute of Social Sciences, and Mazin Mukhtar a US-trained aerospace engineer, are transforming the lives of underprivileged kids in Pamohi village near Guwahati. For the past nearly three years they have been running Akshar School where underprivileged children from four to fifteen years study free of cost. This does not mean that they are exempted of tuition fee. It is just of a different kind. The kids are required to collect 10 to 20 items of dry plastic waste per week with a pledge to not burn plastic. Rather than passive learning, Parmita and Mukhtar are trying to instill eco-friendliness in children through active participation. When the idea of Akshar School germinated in June 2016, there were only 20 students, now there are around 100 students. Such an inspirational act of empowering underprivileged kids and training them how to live an eco-friendly life can not remain hidden for long, it has gained national as well as international recognition — and a sponsor too!

Responsible fashion

In Leh, a relatively pollution free place, kids belonging to Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) showed their eco-friendly side by celebrating a Used Clothes Day on June 2 where the students exchanged their old clothes. Understandably, ripped jeans made a fashion statement but it trended with #responsiblefashion. Sonam Wangchuk, the founder of the school, pledged to wear un-ironed clothes. “Why wear freshly ripped jeans… when you can wear them till they naturally rip. If even 1KW electricity, used to iron a set of clothes, could be saved, this can light lamp of a small family’s house for four days,” he adds. Known for making ice stupas in the higher areas to cater to the irrigation needs downhill, Wangchuk announced the creation of first perennial manmade glacier, towering as high as a 10-storied building, in Shara valley on June 5 (World Environment Day). 

Some of the corporates, too, are being part of this change. Air Vistara recently replaced plastic cutlery in its airlines catering services with biodegradable cutlery. Kotak Mahindra Bank, in its Mumbai offices, have introduced glass water jars and disposable paper cups in the meeting rooms thereby saving 4.3 lakh plastic bottles per annum.

Fast facts

  • 9 out of every 10,000 children in India are killed due to air pollution before they turn five — says State of India’s Environment 2019. 
  • 11 states in India recorded extreme weather events that claimed 1,425 lives in 2018.
  • 65 metres, the height of India’s tallest garbage mound in New Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill site. At its current rate of growth, it will be higher than the Taj Mahal (73m) in 2020.
  • 0.28 Million e-vehicles in India (May 2019) against the targeted 15-16 million e-vehicles by 2020.
— Source: Centre for Science and Environment report


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