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View from India: Reconnecting with nature to create a Clean India

Ever since Narendra Modi became our Prime Minister (PM) in 2014, there have been several initiatives towards creating a pollution-free Clean India and the spotlight has been on cleanliness and sanitation.

The national Clean India campaign is titled Swachh Bharat, under which many projects have already been successfully piloted and are up and running in various parts of the country. There’s also a tremendous emphasis on tree plantation. Millions of trees have been planted by schoolchildren, corporations and NGOs.

Now, our PM has envisioned a new initiative appropriately timed for World Environment Day (WED), to be celebrated on June 5. India with a population of 1.3 billion has always supported WED’s annual theme.

The United Nations (UN) has chosen the theme ‘Connecting People to Nature’ for this year’s WED. In other words, it’s back to basics, where individuals and countries pause, look backwards and even inwards as they retrace their steps to their roots.

In his latest Mann Ki Baat, a monthly radio address to the nation, Modi has gently nudged the people of the country to connect with nature for the obvious reasons of the benefits this would bring in helping to nurture a better planet. “The global campaign of connecting with nature on June 5 should become our individual campaign as well,” Modi said. India, as the world’s second most populous country, is set to roll out a large-scale waste management initiative launched by the Central Government along with State Governments.

The national public campaign will be spread across 4,000 towns, with each receiving colour-coded litter bins to encourage its people to separate solid waste from compostable waste. There will be two bins: blue to collect dry garbage and green to collect liquid garbage.

The waste, it appears, need not get wasted. Several new processes and mechanisms will be implemented to ensure that liquid waste - most of which comes from domestic kitchens - can be recycled or converted into fertiliser for the agricultural sector. Dry waste, in the form of newspapers and cardboards, will be recycled in a mechanised manner. This is where science, technology and engineering will come together to make waste into wealth.

The cleanliness drive that began on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi (the world’s oldest city) has now evolved into a movement, many of whose activities have been initiated by the common man. A case in point is the Versova Beach in Mumbai, the country’s finance capital. The name Afroz Shah may not exactly ring a bell with most people, but this lawyer made the first move in 2015 to clean up Versova Beach.

Slowly, people came forward as volunteers until it grew into a wide mission to entirely clean up the beach. Over a period of 80-90 weeks, people worked to get rid of 4,000 tons of trash from the 2.5 kilometre area. It should come as no surprise that the United Nations also took notice of this beach clean-up and acknowledged Shah's efforts: the United Nations Environment Programme awarded Shah a ‘Champion of the Earth’ Award in 2016. Shah was the first Indian recipient of this award.

Looking ahead, WED is also the time when big organisations lay out their new eco-friendly initiatives, which often also double as cost-cutting measures. The spirit is also reflected in activities such as weekend tours to forest reserves and protected areas within the ecosystem. Wildlife conservation efforts are also announced to mark the occasion. Private-public partnerships are floated to preserve and protect endangered species of animals and protect natural resources.

Let’s face it, we all need nature’s bounty and fresh air is both welcome and a necessity. One positive move in this direction is TrinTrin, India’s first public bicycle sharing system launched on June 4 2017 in Mysore, the princely heritage city of Karnataka.

The chief minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah launched TrinTrin as a Government of Karnataka project, partially funded by the World Bank under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Grant. The project is planned and implemented by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport and Mysore City Corporation.

The system involves borrowing a bicycle from any ‘docking station’ across the city and returning the borrowed bicycle after a ride to another ‘docking station’, to suit the convenience of the rider.

TrinTrin will be implemented and operated by Green Wheel Ride, a Mysore-based enterprise engaged in manufacturing eco-friendly battery-operated bicycles and promoting the concept and culture of cycling in Mysore City. Currently the system features 52 hubs and 450 bicycles.

The TrinTrin public sharing system consists of automated bicycle hubs equipped with modern technology to monitor, unlock and lock the bicycles to the docking units. All the bicycle hubs are connected by a communication network through which all the bicycles hubs are monitored from the central control centre.

Let’s hope similar services extend to other parts of the country as well, as part of the national drive for a Clean India.

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