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The manager of Clean Himalaya, Jitendra Kumar, student of spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen’s EnlightenNext in India, is showing the way to promote effective waste management in a safe and eco-friendly manner in one of the holiest areas of the world. Jitendra is sensitizing people about the need to establish scientific, hygienic, and productive solid waste management in Rishikesh under the Clean Himalaya initiative.

Muni-ki-reti / Tapovan / Lakshmanjula area of Northern India—located along the Ganges River in the Himalayan foothills about three kilometres from Rishikesh—is considered by many to be one of the holiest areas in the world. It still radiates a peace and stillness that has arisen from centuries of deep meditation by saints and sages on the Great Reality. In India the Ganges and the Himalayas are considered to be manifestations of the sacred, but in recent times the beauty and sanctity of the river and the mountains have been marred by a combination of many factors: the intense development of hotels, shops, homes, and ashrams; the greater use of plastic bags and other non-degradable packaging materials; the lack of organized municipal pick-up of garbage, and the absence of a suitable municipal dumping ground for garbage. Therefore, garbage litters the roadsides, hillside drains, ravines, and the Ganges banks. In addition, a considerable amount of plastic waste is thrown into irrigation channels polluting the water used for farming and littering the farmland. The endpoint for a large percentage of this garbage from drains, irrigation channels and ravines is the Ganges itself. Further, stagnant water in drains and irrigation channels, blocked by plastics, fosters the growth of disease-carrying insects and rodents. Toxins from plastic and non-degradable waste may enter the ground water especially near the Ganges and thus enter the many wells that are dug along the banks of the Ganges.

Western students of the spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen visiting Rishikesh in the year 2000, became aware that Westerners were contributing to the pollution through their use of mineral water packaged in plastic bottles. At that time, these plastic bottles were thrown anywhere and everywhere, and the students felt that since the foreigners were helping to create the problem, they should do something to correct it. As a result, they with the help of one of Andrew’s Indian students, Jitendra Kumar, began picking up bottles from ravines and off the street. It was at this time Jitendra’s eyes were opened, and he was shocked to see how all types of garbage were littering the streets, ravines, and the banks of the Ganges. Jitendra thus started to informally organize rag-pickers to collect plastic bottles and other dry waste from local guesthouses and ashrams in the Tapovan area as they generated large amounts of plastic garbage. Gradually this service grew into a small enterprise under his supervision.

This small service got the attention of a few individuals from different places in the Tapovan / Muni-ki-reti area. A number of these well-wishers donated money so that Jitendra could purchase a cart for collecting garbage, have posters printed, and hire more workers. It was always hoped by the donors that this service would eventually become a full-time, self-sustaining organization capable of paying the operating costs and of providing a salary for the supervisor and the garbage collectors. The program has slowly progressed and matured as a private initiative, and in its present operation, two workers are employed for collecting, segregating, and sending for recycling the garbage from the Muni-ki-reti area, and two more garbage collectors are employed to do the same work in the Lakshmanjula and Tapovan area.

Presently Clean Himalaya collects dry wastes from a few ashrams, a number of hotels, restaurants and homes in Muni-ki-reti, Tapovan, Lakshmanjula and along the Border road that runs through that area. The sorting and recycling work is done on the property rented to the Andrew Cohen/EnlightenNext Centre. Recyclable and non-recyclable garbage are separated and stored, recyclable garbage is later sold, and the non-recyclables are burnt. Unlike the environmental-friendly recycling work done by Clean Himalaya, the municipal sweepers and rag pickers presently collect some of the garbage, but then take only the profitable recyclable wastes. They then dump the rest of the garbage—including non-profitable recyclable wastes—on the roadside, into the ravines, or over the hillsides.

Clean Himalaya, on the other hand, deals with all dry wastes in a responsible way either by recycling the recyclable waste or burning the non-recyclable waste. In future, it hopes to further protect the environment through the use of an environmentally-friendly incinerator. The project aims to maintain the sanctity, beauty and cleanliness of the Ganges and Himalayan area through solid waste disposal and management, to protect roaming animals and the environment from toxic materials, and to provide employment and income for the sweepers and their supervisors. Potentially around 300,000 people could directly benefit from the work being done—not including the many visitors and tourists coming to this area. Jitendra has already made significant improvement and continues to make determined efforts to canvass for new business in the local area through “cold calling,” which means that several times a week he visits previously un-contacted hotels, shops, and homes in the area to explain the project and sign up new clients who might be interested. He gives attractive posters to potential users of the service pointing out the importance of source segregation and recycling. A sliding scale fee is suggested—based on client income and their inherent interest in the project. Jitendra regularly visits the hotels, shops, and homes that have joined the project to ensure that the garbage collectors are coming daily, to see that the clients are satisfied with the service, and to sustain a friendly and serviceful relationship.

In addition, he has requested land from the Sub-District Magistrate to be used for on-site composting and waste segregation. Continuous assistance is also being provided to this initiative by the Sanitation Committee of The Divine Life Society (Sivananda Ashram). Many bins have already been provided at the Ashram to facilitate residents to dispose off their dry and organic wastes separately, thus discouraging littering and encouraging recycling. Municipal sweepers are either in short supply and/or are poorly supervised. Therefore, drains are chronically full of plastics and streets are littered with garbage. To truly make a visible difference in the area, Clean Himalaya, in future, hopes to hire its own street sweepers or coordinate its efforts with those of the municipality, so that drains would be daily cleaned and garbage on the roadside would be both picked up and sorted for recycling—rather than being dumped on the hillsides or into the ravines.

It is also planned to provide instruction and dissemination of educational literature to the public relating to the importance of keeping the surroundings clean—from a spiritual, environmental, and civic perspective. This is in part already being accomplished at the time of canvassing for business, as posters are offered to all prospects. It is also hoped to visit schools in order to educate the children and include them in cleaning projects with prizes. Jitendra will also solicit ideas from those supporting the project to suggest ways and means to help raise the level of consciousness in this very critical area. More detailed and scientific studies for developing effective strategies and appropriate need based actions would be undertaken by School for Environmental Sciences in Lucknow. The interventions of Clean Himalaya are solutions for the current institutional weaknesses of the local municipal systems, which provide inadequate services and are lacking in managerial focus.

Currently, there is no municipal system of storage or disposal of waste, and most of the population simply deposits the waste on the streets or in open spaces. When such waste is generated and left unattended, it creates a serious hazard for overall community health and sanitation. The Clean Himalaya project in Lakshmanjula and Tapovan uses a novel approach in that it does not rely upon state support; it is truly entrepreneurial. Through continued friendly contact with the local people, Jitendra is beginning to build up their confidence and secure more and more garbage collection and disposal business.

This project is aimed to benefit the Ganges/Himalayas area in Tapovan, Muni-ki-reti and Lakshmanjhula through proper waste disposal, which results in a much cleaner environment. In particular, the population will greatly benefit when the streams that find their way into the Ganga and the water that is used for irrigation of farmland will be protected from the effects of garbage thrown into drains, irrigation channels, ravines etc. The intent of the project is also to promote practical knowledge and awareness in order to foster greater participation in the waste management activities around Rishikesh. The project will shift the responsibility away from local municipal government to private entrepreneurs who will be fully accountable. The participation of residents, shops, and hotels is continuing to grow, and with the passage of time, when cooperation with municipal sweepers is achieved, an even more significant and visible benefit to everyone in the area is expected to grow even further.

Up until mid-September 2006, Clean Himalaya was losing money due to the unreliability of the garbage collection workers (rag-pickers) in the Lakshmanjula and Tapovan area and the consequent inability to develop new business. However, in mid-September two new workers from a local sweeper’s colony were hired, and they were found to be sincere and reliable enough that the supervisor felt confident to solicit more business. After two and a half months of steady canvassing for new business, Clean Himalaya is now making enough money to cover the salaries of the four workers (two in Muni-ki-reti and two in the Lakshmanjula/Tapovan/Border Road area) and the general operating expenses such as telephone charges, gasoline, bags, additional labor to sort garbage, and the transportation of the garbage. Money has been set aside for maintenance expenditures on the scooter and the garbage cart as well as other contingent expenses. If the scheme is scaled up for greater coverage, it is expected that income from user fees, selling recyclable waste and finished compost would be sufficient to cover the operation and maintenance costs in subsequent years. The collection and disposal of solid wastes in the area on a cost recovery basis would make the project self-sustainable, as there exists vast untapped potential and demand for these services.

Currently the venture covers less than 25% of the total area, but after scaling-up, it may be possible to use the system for the entire population—thereby leading to improvement in the environment as well as providing work for a number of people. Propagating the scheme through further community development and social mobilization strategies would pay rich dividends. Based on previous experience, the level of involvement of the local community in the implementation of the project could become quite high, and this greater involvement would result in income generation for many families and immeasurable environmental and sanitation benefits to the surroundings. Other groups facing similar constraints and opportunities can adopt the project concept, and there is a greater potential for this idea to be scaled-up to a much larger level of participation. These types of projects can target other groups and geographic areas. Its innovative financing method and support process can also be tried elsewhere and employed with success.

(Written by Venkatesh Dutta, with inputs from Swami Amritarupanandaji of Sivananda Ashram)
 
 
 
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