Catch Water where it falls!
The rivers… all discharge their waters into the sea.
They lead from sea to sea.
The clouds raise them to the sky as vapour and release them in the form of rain… (Chandogya Upanishad, c. 1000 BP)
Indeed, cleaning India will become a reality, when we catch the waste at the site of its creation and not at the end of the stream.
It is no doubt true that we live at a moment when “the results of science” confront us daily. Science tells us how best to do things we have already decided to do. For emerging economies such as India, addressing pollution, be it water, plastic, or noise is a relatively new priority. As a result, much of the cleaning of India project is a work in progress especially with initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, the challenge remains in removing tradition-based prejudices of purity and pollution.
With the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s recent declaration of Jan Bhagidari (participation of people in governance), Jan Chetna (raising awareness) and going beyond Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas to a new form of aspirational governance, Sabka Vishwas (Everyone’s Trust), the rallying cry is suggestive of “Leaving No One Behind”. This in a way reiterates the UN slogan to help meet the mandated Sustainable Development Goals.
The success of the next phase of Swachh Bharat Mission will depend to a large extent on the way technology is integrated into this campaign. This calls for a commitment to zero carbon initiative, based on increased use of renewables, including solar and wind. There is an urgent need to establish waste management infrastructure in both rural and urban areas in order for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Rural (SBM-R) and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), to be successful. There is a need to create consensus and get a buy-in from all stakeholders to achieve this shared goal.
Exemplars for cleanliness have to emerge from our Home, our Educational institutions from Schools, Colleges and Universities, Temples/ Mosques, Public Parks, and most certainly from the Headquarters of our esteemed Administration, both at the State and Central level. At times, the challenge one faces is that the District Admin is not in tune with the central government’s vision, hence, taking the empathy and enthusiasm for a transformational initiative, impacting the outcome. My own experience in seeking to remove single use plastics in Majuli Island in Assam has demonstrated this contrast. A unified vision can generate better outcomes for the community.
Conducting a sensitising drive without a follow up with direct grassroots engagement will lead to no change in behaviour neither at the top echelons of the administration nor at the level of the household. The basic framework of Clean India campaign needs to emerge from a well-defined approach towards waste collection/segregation and recycling. It has to start with a dialogue on zero waste as a main target. Perhaps a more appropriate slogan would have to be that of a Sustainable India, where the protection of our environment or ‘Vatavaran’ is the key towards ‘Vikas’ or progress.
Recent years have seen critical development of low-cost technologies, designed to help tackle the management of waste. One such initiative is that of the Vibgyor Enterprise, from Assam. This is a prototype, segregating machine developed by a local engineer-cum-entrepreneur, Sanjib Sabhapandit, will help create and sustain a circular economy beneficial to the local economy and to the Indian economy in general.
The significant role of local, home grown technology will help us to re-define what constitutes waste and how we can best manage it in order to create wealth out of the waste, benefitting the community. Such a system will help eliminate the hazardous task of waste segregation undertaken by women, men and children often in unhygienic conditions. Such an initiative will also reduce and eventually remove excessive dependence on landfill sites and the instinctive use of natural waterways to dispose of waste, by incorporating indigenously devised technological solutions.
The composting of domestic and industrial food wastes will assist in the development of bio-manure, which would also promote the circular economy. This will give rise to income generation opportunities, thus empowering the local communities to engage with alternative, low cost technologies, ushering a new stage in our Clean India drive both in the rural and urban areas.
It’s time the traditional concept of ‘waste’ is overhauled to be seen as an economic asset, rather than as a burden to be dealt by someone else, away from his or her own backyard.
(Views are personal)