The Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary can become the launch pad for a cleaner, healthier, more innovative, and ecologically responsible India
Several events were lined up in almost every city and town on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2nd. People of all backgrounds found it an occasion to rededicate themselves to the values of equality and social justice that he tirelessly propagated throughout his life. These continue to guide the efforts of nations around the world to this day.
Among the events organised on this day the more prominent ones were those devoted to Swachchata. Large groups of citizens, notably students pledged to work on cleaning up their cities and water bodies. Events were also organised and messages propagated to spread the message to eliminate use of single use plastic from this day. Several organisations, public and private vowed to eschew the use of such plastic in their office premises and homes. This ‘no single use plastic’ movement has indeed gathered momentum in a short while and is seeing good participation by large sections of society, especially in cities.
For us it is now time to leverage the big start that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has given to the country across states and geographies. The achievements in ODF status are impressive. We must now prepare to reap the benefits in terms of better health outcomes and eradicating poverty. Sustained and penetrative awareness campaigns must project the benefits accrued and likely in future. Since independence, Swachh Bharat has been one of the biggest social interventions; its momentum must be sustained. While the initial thrust came from generous government and CSR funding, further sustenance must happen with improved citizen behaviour and participation.
National, regional and local governments can build upon the significant achievements through further interventions. Among the crying needs is to reduce drastically the household waste that is generated in our cities. Governments can encourage, support and incubate recycling and new material development technologies. While the awareness on the ills of plastic is high, there seems little in terms of cost-effective alternatives. One hopes that with worldwide attention to the issue, viable alternatives will emerge. Consider for example, the widespread use of plastic containers in the FMCG, foods and pharmaceuticals sectors.
The sheer volumes of these, mostly ending up in landfills, creates humungous ecological challenges. There is need for extended producer responsibility in these cases. Local bodies must mandate effective collection measures by producers and transportation for recycling. Additionally they must incentivize rag-pickers who can provide efficient last mile effort to collect, move and monetize these, while creating livelihood options for themselves. Similarly, one is yet to see a mechanism for collecting the millions of empty milk sachets generated every day in cities – there has been talk of dairies putting in place a mechanism to pay for these empty sachets so consumers preserve and monetize this harmful component of household waste enabling its recycling rather than sending it to landfills. This needs to be pushed forward urgently. Cardboard cartons and other paper packaging needs to be recycled fully. Segregation of waste at source is as yet inadequate and sporadic.
All these call for concerted actions by one and all if we are to fully win the battle against waste. It is a battle we must win.