We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
The political tidal waves sweeping over Delhi, Bhopal, Jaipur and Raipur kept us glued to our screens through freezing December nights. But, for most of us in Mussoorie, they were entertainment, as politics has, increasingly, become. We, like many other citizens in our small towns, are gripped by more everyday problems: water, food, clothing, shelter, health, safety, education and jobs.
This is why we were interested to read “2 Minute Safaai Ke Kam launched in Mussoorie” (GP 12 Dec. 2018), We had written about our town’s waste crisis, mentioning the commendable work done by local resident Dana Cryder and his KEEN team. Now we learnt that world-spanning Nestle had involved itself in our small town’s problem. Multi-national industries are not welfare organisations. They invest in social services only if it burnishes their image. This led us to the realisation that many of Nestle’s products are packaged in plastic. This cheap material is so modern and artificial that nature has not had time to evolve a living organism that will break it down the way bacteria recycle organic matter in “shoes and ships and sealing-wax and cabbages and kings.” When we were an Indian Naval family, we saw rafts of plastic waste floating like alien blights on the earth’s greatest recycling systems: the oceans. The next time you throw away an empty packet of noodles, or a soft-drinks bottle, remember that you could be injuring your own health and that of your family.
Yes, it is as grave and imminent as that.
This is why Nestle’s reported involvement in cleaning up Mussoorie’s garbage interested us. But what, exactly, is Nestle’s stake in this project? Two young men involved in it, and brimming with zest, visited us to answer our questions. According to them, while they have reached out to Dana Cryder’s KEEN, their own role in all this is as Facilitators, Co-ordinators and Trainers. This is great as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Years ago, the City Board decided to install separate garbage bins to segregate bio-degradable and plastic waste. It did not work. House-owners find it much easier to pay the City Board’s conservancy staff to remove their unsegregated garbage. These workers, in turn, either burn it, throw it over the hillside, or send it down to the “dumping” grounds. From there it is dispersed by dogs and birds, and sometimes stray cattle. When it rains, this garbage is washed down to the Jumna and it is no longer our problem!
The very enthusiastic reps who visited us felt that they could “motivate” Mussoorie’s citizens to take their project seriously. They did, however, realise that this would be difficult because people of our town already pay a Conservancy Tax and greatly resent the misuse of the Eco-cess extracted by the City Board on visitors entering Mussoorie. We were not told how they intended to get over these objections. They were also not certain about the final disposal of the plastic waste. One of them felt that it would be converted into pipes, toys and other products. This is not very satisfactory because that is what is happening now when most of our plastic waste is sent to the plains for re-cycling. Rather than introduce another avoidable step in our plastic disposal scheme, it would be far better to permit KEEN to expand its activities to all the 13 wards of our town. KEEN is a local organisation with a proven track record of working in coordination with our Municipal authorities. Apart from this, the Nestle-aided organisation plans to operate in Mussoorie for only one year. It will, then, move on to another destination. Consequently, if any problems crop up after 12 months, the Municipal Board will have to handle them. But our civic authorities have been unable to tackle our waste problem which is why they turned to KEEN in the first place!
As a matter of abundant caution, therefore, our Civic Authorities must exhaust all local alternatives first before entering into any financial obligation with an external agency: even one with the attractive but mysterious 2 Minute Safaai Ke Kam catch phrase.
That is the very least that We, the Government, can expect.