New Delhi: As Mumbai hopes vighnaharta (destroyer of obstacles), Ganapati takes away the woes of Mumbai rains soon, so that festivities can resume, Pune, the other major hub of Ganesh festival in Maharashtra, is gearing up to take on the challenge posed by immersion of idols that mark the end of Ganesh festival. The by-product of the grand scale of celebrations is also the waste that is generated by the immersions of the Ganesh idols pose to the water bodies. To cut down the volume of waste being dumped in Pune’s Mula-Mutha River, the Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) cooperative of nearly 2,800 ragpickers will be helping divert nirmalya (immersion wastes like flowers, leaves, decorations, etc.) away from the water bodies during idol immersion.
Under the ‘Nirmalya Swachh River’ initiative every year, SWaCH, a waste picker’s organisation along with the residents of Pune will try to divert as much waste as possible from the city’s Mula-Mutha River. This year under the initiative citizens will be stationed across 16 ghats on August 31 (the seventh day of the 10-day festival) and on September 5 (last day), to create awareness about river pollution.
On both these days the teams will get to work from morning 9am and go on till midnight. Every volunteer and waste picker will appeal to the citizens (who come to immerse their idols) to refrain from immersing their decorations, food items, flower waste etc. along with the idol. Instead they will encourage people to discard these items into huge buckets and big plastic bags provided by the volunteers. At the end of the day all the waste collected will be segregated into dry and wet waste which then will be composted and recycled by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The corporation will provide vehicles for transporting the wastes from different ghats.
The SWaCH team has also got river experts on board who have conducted short river walks, with the volunteers and waste pickers right before the immersion process begins, explaining the beauty of rivers and what can be done to save the river.
The ‘Nirmalya Swachh River’ which was started in 2008, has seen an increase in citizen’s participation and adoption of eco-friendly Ganesh idols over the years. “There is a sense of responsibility among the residents of Pune towards environment that has been developed over the years among the citizens and our Cooperative provides them with the facilities to implement their thoughts. The idea is not only create awareness among people but also make them an integral part of the initiative,” says Suchismita Pai, member of SWaCH.
In their first year (in 2008) the waste pickers and volunteers had managed to divert about 12 tonnes of garbage from getting dumped into the river. Over the years, with more and more households getting Ganpati idols at home, the waste generation has also increased and last year a whopping 120 tonnes of waste was saved from being discarded into the river. Impressed by the efforts of the SWaCH team, five main Ganpati pandals of Pune have requested the organisation to help them manage their discarded waste at the venue as well.
“SWaCH has been a major contributor in managing city’s overall waste and their help during Ganapati festival is a huge relief for the PMC as well. Every year nearly 6 lakh idols are immersed thereby recording huge volumes of waste getting dumped into the river. The waste that is diverted by the corporative and volunteers lessens the burden on the PMC. And the segregation done by them becomes convenient for us as we only then have to send the waste to recyclers instead of dumping everything at our landfill,” says an official from PMC.
What started as a mere seva (social service) to keep the rivers clean has now grown into a huge swachhta movement where citizens of Pune themselves want to contribute to the good initiative.
We have all taken turns to be at the ghats every year because we consider it a chance to serve the city and be a part of the festival at the same time. It all began with simple intention and has grown to become an extremely organised event with such a huge impact on the waste management system. It just shows that every person can make a difference, says Shobha Bansode, SWaCH member waste picker.