New Delhi: As 2019 draws to a close, it marks the beginning of a decade. It is not just the time to pause, ponder and take stock of the past 10 years but also the time to set the agenda for the upcoming decade. Is India cleaner and healthier than it was 10 years ago. The answer is, yes. But with 80 per cent of urban India’s 62 million tonnes of waste generated still getting dumped untreated, 1.2 million Indians dying annually due to air pollution, one-third of the world’s malnourished children being Indian and 50 per cent of the pregnant women in India being anaemic, the country has its task cut out for the coming decade. Some of India’s Swasth and Swachh warriors have been working tirelessly on the ground to ensure clean environment and better health for all Indians. Here are five such heroes:
Mahesh Chandra Mehta, The Crusader
The 73-year-old Padma Shree and Ramon Magsaysay award winning lawyer, Mahesh Chandra Mehta has spent almost 35 years of his life fighting for the environment. While Mr. Mehta says at his age, he would love to spend his days peacefully but he doesn’t have time to do so, as he is busy in his quest for justice on some of India’s raging environmental issues, especially when it comes to the pollution of the river Ganga.
Mr Mehta has left no stone unturned in the past 3 decades, to hold those accountable for the pollution in the river Ganga – be it the government authorities or industries. Mr Mehta’s fight for a cleaner Ganga began in 1985, when he filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, that despite legislations in place, industries were flouting norms which resulted in the pollution of Ganga.
The principal violators were identified as the leather tanneries of Kanpur, which disposed of large amounts of waste into the river. Subsequently, the petition was bifurcated into two parts, one dealing with the tanneries and the other with the municipal corporations and their roles in the river’s pollution. The case was transferred by the Supreme Court to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014 and in July 2017, the NGT gave a landmark judgment which prohibited waste disposal within 500 metres of the river and designated that 100 metres from the river as a ‘no-development zone,’ from the stretch of Haridwar to Unnao.
To know more about him, read his exclusive chat with NDTV on the judgment.
Dr. Rajendra Singh, The Waterman Of India
60-year-old Dr. Rajendra Singh is Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery in terms of qualification, but he has dedicated his life for the cause of water conservation. Dr. Singh is the Chairman of non-profit Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), an NGO that works for promoting a sustainable environment, since 1985. Since then, under his leadership, TBS is working for restoring water to barren lands of the country. He has worked in 850 villages and 11 districts, adopted traditional wisdom of ‘johad’; to capture rainwater and store in man made lakes. This method has been effective in reviving groundwater and other water bodies in the area that had dried up.
Dr. Singh has been actively promoting restoration of the India’s rivers like Ganga and in the last decade has taken it up with the government to prioritise mainly five things to ensure cleaner rivers.
- The dams and hydropower projects on rivers need to be shut immediately to remove interruptions and restore the ecological flow of the rivers.
- River and sewers need to be de-linked and the civic muck must be forbidden to enter rivers.
- Community-driven, decentralised water management must be practised.
- Research on understanding water should be encouraged and people must be made water-literate through awareness programmes to increase mindful and efficient use of water among people.
- Rivers should be treated as equivalent to humans with rights just like people which can be defended in the court of law.
In 2014, he organised a walkathon along the banks of Godavari river to raise awareness about river pollution and urge people to make it pollution free. He promotes a simple technique to conserve water which is also cost effective.
For his efforts in water conservation, Dr. Rajendra Singh was honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award’ in 2001 for community leadership and also won of Stockholm Water Prize’ 2015; an award known as “the Nobel Prize for Water” and the Guardian named him among its list of “50 people who could save the planet”.
To know more about him, read his exclusive chat with NDTV about his life and work.
Basanta Kar, The Nutrition Man
Basanta Kumar Kar dedicated his life to championing the cause of nutrition and development ever since he became aware about hunger vulnerability as a development practitioner in early 1980s. Today he serves as the Country Director of Project Concern International (PCI), and is known as the ‘Nutrition Man’. He is also working as the Senior Advisor for the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security (India), the country’s largest nutrition coalition with a mission for a sustainable nutrition security.
As a development professional, Mr. Kar who is also a member of the key advisory group on Nutrition in the NITI Aayog, is currently co-leading a comprehensive strategy in the East Indian state of Odisha, titled- “Mission Filaria, Malaria, and Malnutrition-Free Odisha”, as Odisha contributes 40 per cent of India’s total malaria burden and the poorest tribes are affected most by the triple burden of Malnutrition, Malaria and Filaria.
He is also working with the Government of Chhattisgarh and demonstrated way back in 2006 how record reduction in malnutrition among children can be achieved with the first-ever nutrition policy in the state. He also supported the empowerment of over 10,000 marginalised women and girls for their election to local government positions (Panchayats) in Chhattisgarh to propel action on nutrition; for which he was also nominated for the India Innovation Award.
While talking to NDTV about his experience in tackling malnutrition in India, Mr. Kar emphasized the importance of engaging the masses in the efforts towards improving nutrition and ending hunger in the country. He also said that the governments at the state and local levels must invest in eradicating malnutrition for the overall growth of the people and the country as a whole.
To do away with malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency is as urgent and as important as it was to banish such evils as slavery. I say this since we can’t let millions of human beings to be held hostage to malnutrition. To allow them to be hostage is a crime against humanity. To ignore their plight is criminal.
Mr. Kar was awarded the Nutrition Leadership Award 2019 on November 5 for his contribution towards nutrition by a humanitarian organisation Sight and Life, a nutrition think tank based out of Switzerland and working in over 80 countries across the world.
To know more about him, read his exclusive chat with NDTV about his life and initiatives.
Afroz Shah, Champion Of The Earth
What started in 2015 with a lawyer simply deciding to clean up the dirty beach behind his house with his neighbor, turned into a massive movement. Eventually more and more people who saw Afroz Shah and his neighbour, cleaning the beach, started helping them. In no time, the movement became India’s biggest community clean-up drive with thousands of volunteers joining in the weekly beach clean-ups.
In August 2016, over 500 residents, Bollywood celebrities like Pooja Bhatt, Pooja Bedi and Subhash Ghai, BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) labourers and UN officials, including Eric Solheim, Chief of United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) and Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron of the Oceans, came together and removed over 2.84 lakh kilograms of trash manually from the 2.5-km long Versova beach.
In the same year, Afroz Shah, for his endeavour was awarded the United Nation’s top environmental accolade — Champions of the Earth award.
In 2017, Afroz got more support from people and environmentalists including Actor and Sustainable Development Goals Advocate UN Environment, Dia Mirza, MLA Aaditya Thackeray, Bollywood’s megastar and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded his initiatives and efforts.
Afroz made history towards the end of 2018 when the beach warrior together with his dedicated team cleaned-up more than 20 million kilogram of waste from Versova Beach in November 2018, Afroz decided to move on to a new mission and then took up a new challenge to clean up Mumbai’s longest river – Mithi.
Calling Mithi River as his new-found love, Afroz shared with NDTV on why he has taken up this challenge, he said,
The idea behind Mithi river clean-up is to create an army of people who love and value natural water bodies. I realised how bad the condition of Mithi river is when an Imam of a nearby mosque told me that 30 years ago, he used to use the water from the river as drinking water and now it has turned into a sewage. The river is 18 kilometres long starting at Vihar lake in Powai and ending near the Bandra Kurla Complex. Looking at the condition of the river I can say that it is going to take at least five years to clean the river.
Today, Afroz is known across the globe as the man who kick-started world’s biggest clean-up project at Versova beach, an environment crusader and a True Champion of the Earth.
To know more about him, read his exclusive chat with NDTV about his life and initiatives.
Anganwadi Workers, Agents Of Change At The Grassroot Level
With a workforce of 26 lakh Anganwadi Workers (AWW) and a budget allocation of close to Rs. 20,000 crores (Rs.19,834.37 crores) for ‘Anganwadi Services’ for Umbrella ICDS for the year 2019-20, the Anganwadi (AW) system is the backbone of the country’s Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS)—the world’s largest community-based programme for child development.
Anganwadi workers are a team made up entirely of women, they help and educate mothers and young children about various health issues like malnutrition and first thousand days of a child. According to experts, anganwadi workers are the real development agents as they work at the grass root level and act as the last mile connectivity with the people living in remote areas. Typically, an anganwadi worker are provided with guidelines that include their job responsibilities like showing community support and active participation in executing this program, conducting regular quick surveys of all families, organising pre-school activities, providing health and nutrition education to families, especially pregnant women. They are also expected to motivate families to adopt family planning, educate parents about child growth and development, assisting in the implementation and execution of Kishori Shakti Yojana, educating teenage girls and parents by organising social awareness programs, and identifying disabilities in children, among many crucial duties.
Through the Anganwadi workers, it becomes easier for the government to provide affordable and accessible healthcare to local population.
Anganwadi workers have better social skills and can interact more easily with the local people, as they are from the same area they know the people, are comfortable with the local language and traditions and are trusted.
Let’s look at the case of 35-year-old Nisha Choubisa works with the Anganwadi in her village Majawada near Udaipur and like many villages in India, awareness about health and nutrition especially with regards to pregnant women and infants was very low in her village. Most villagers preferred home births and had very little or no knowledge about the post birth care for both mother and infant. As part of her field-work as an AWW, she covers 10-15 houses every day, personally talking and explaining the importance of nutrition to pregnant women and lactating mothers. Nisha, who won the Outlook Poshan Award in 2019, says she loves her work,
I just try to explain to them that only healthy mothers can produce a healthy offspring, she says.
Not only that, she also talks to the mothers of two or more children about contraception options like birth control operations, pills, among others. Like Nisha, 26 lakh women are working tirelessly as anganwadi workers and are the true Swasth warriors of the country.
To know more about Nisha, read her exclusive chat with NDTV.