Unfortunately, festivities and filth go hand in hand these days. But N.S. Ramakanth is on a mission to ensure that people celebrate festivals more responsibly and do not contaminate their environment in the process. He has been fighting for a cleaner Bengaluru for several years and recently executed a successful cleanliness drive after the Ganesha festival.
N.S. Ramakanth left his job as chief engineer with a German company and came back to Bengaluru in 1989 when his mother fell sick. On returning to his birthplace, he was appalled to see the polluted and filthy environment in the city. He decided not to take up another job but to devote his time to raising awareness about the poor waste management in the metropolis.
Now 77 years old and still going strong, Ramakanth can be seen chasing municipal corporation officials of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to clean up the filthy lakes in the city.
He also hounds bureaucrats to solve garbage problems, encourages citizens to get involved with civic issues, and motivates volunteers when they conduct cleanliness drives.
Quite recently, Ramakanth was seen running a successful campaign to minimise the waste generated during the Ganesha festival at Sankey Tank, a man-made lake in western Bengaluru.
“After the festival, tonnes of garbage can be found around the water bodies. We need to come up with solutions to stop this kind of mess from happening again and again. We also need to carry out effective operations to clean the area after festivals. But the first step is to spread awareness among people to minimise the waste,” he says.
In keeping with this line of thinking, Ramakanth first prepared a small 10-minute skit to engage city residents. Along with a few volunteers, he performed the play in different places to raise awareness about how people generate huge amounts of waste during the festival.
“The skit had an interesting script. Lord Ganesha sends Narada to the earth to check on the celebrations of the Ganesha festival. When Narada comes to earth he sees drunk people dancing, noisy crackers being burnt, and broken Ganesha idols lying around after the festivities. Narada reports this to Ganesha who is so hurt by people’s behaviour that he decides not to give any phal to them,” says Ramakanth.
Apart from the skit, Ramakanth also organised eco-friendly Ganesha idol making workshops for the public. He also brought local artisans from the outskirts of the city to different localities within Bengaluru.
“People were saying that local artisans work too far away and it is not feasible to go there to get mud idols. So I brought the artisans close to their residential areas to get them to avoid using plaster of Paris (PoP) and plastic idols,” he says.
Many people also said they wanted bigger idols and mud idols were not available in large sizes. Ramakanth had a solution to this as well. He helped the citizens get customised mud idols, which were five to six feet tall. “I thought it important to provide them with solutions. This is how they will welcome change,” he says.
He also talked to them about the harmful effects of PoP idols and how animals and water creatures die due to the immersion of such idols in water bodies. Ramakanth’s regular interventions and awareness sessions were a huge success and many people in his locality opted for eco-friendly Ganesha idols.
He also advised people to immerse the Ganesha idols in small drums in their own homes and then feed the water to plants rather than going to public water bodies for immersion.
“I don’t understand why people travel so far to dispose the idols. It creates so much noise and pollution. They should celebrate the festival in a neat and healthy way,” says Ramakanth.
After spreading awareness about celebrating the festival more responsibly, it was now time to take up a cleanliness drive.
Kalyani, a small step-well near Sankey Tank, is the site of idol immersions every year and collects a large quantity of filth. Ramakanth had the well cleaned within a week and collected truckloads of the dumped idols to put on display for the citizens to see.
He then pumped out the highly polluted, thick, black remains in the Kalyani to a nearby drain. About 12-15 BBMP workers manually bucketed out the sludge. “All the sewage is supposed to be routed to an STP. But even then, it won’t treat mercury and lead. And that’s something we have no solution for right now,” says Ramakanth.
He sent all the flowers and leaf rejects for composting to eliminate the stink from the well.
“We made sure that segregation of all the biodegradable waste took place at the spot and sent it for composting immediately,” he adds.
As the senior most member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table, he worked for hours instructing civic officials to keep the work going to minimise pollution in the tank water.
Ramakanth tracked the number of idols immersed over the period of 11 days. A total of 1,28,620 idols went into the Kalyani this year. Of these, 61,620 were made of clay and the rest (67,000) were PoP idols.
“I just wanted to see if the awareness campaigns had made any impact on the people. I was impressed. The progress was not bad at all. Almost 50 percent of them were clay idols this year and this was a big achievement,” says Ramakanth.
Ramakanth’s journey does not end here. He is persuading BBMP to completely ban PoP idols from hereon. He has also asked the Pollution Control Board to put up the names of potters who make larger clay Ganesha idols on its website so that people can make use of them.
While changing mindsets and habits may seem like an overwhelming task, Ramakanth is not to be deterred. He has high hopes of making his beloved city pollution and filth free in the future.