For the first time in the history of the country, Kerala witnessed a green and waste-free swearing-in ceremony of the new government. This, and a lot more to manage waste in the state, is being made possible by an IAS officer and her team. Here’s more.
“It is generally believed that only the government or local bodies in any state are responsible for waste management. But we are trying to change this mind-set by stressing that it is everyone’s duty to be concerned about waste. Unless people are willing to take up this responsibility, we cannot move forward. That is why one of our slogans is – ‘My Waste, My Responsibility,’” says Dr. K Vasuki, an IAS officer currently posted as the Executive Director of Suchitwa Mission in Kerala.
Suchitwa Mission is a dedicated agency for sanitation in Kerala. It is a registered society started by the government in 2008, with the vision of creating a waste free state and focusing on public hygiene and cleanliness by providing technical and financial support to local bodies in different regions.
This body is also responsible for coming up with new ways of managing different types of waste.
For a long time after it was set up, the Mission focussed mainly on the implementation of new projects for better results. But things began to change after February 2014, when an IAS officer was appointed to the Mission for the first time. Dr. Vasuki, an MBBS by education and a new resident of Kerala, knew almost nothing about the different aspects of sanitation except that it was and is a huge matter of concern in the state. So she spent six months researching and making field visits to grasp the situation:
“I came to the understanding that sanitation is not a problem caused by lack of technology or resources or anything like that. It is a problem of the people – our attitude and behaviour has enlarged the issue to such an extent. This was when I decided to turn the Mission towards people once again. Instead of focusing on introducing new projects, I started focussing on campaigns to change mind-sets and habits,” she says.
According to Dr. Vasuki, if one looks at the hierarchal pyramid of any waste management system, waste minimization should be at the top. But in India, we are concentrating on waste treatment and disposal as priorities, while giving least importance to minimization and reuse.
Keeping this in mind, she started taking some very efficient steps and is planning some more. Here is a look at a few of them:
Reduce: Home composting was a very important part of Suchitwa Mission since the beginning. But it was under the leadership of Dr. Vasuki that a government order was issued for the first time, making it mandatory for all households to compost their garbage at source. She hopes that this order will soon be made into an Act or something more concrete.
In addition to this, the IAS officer decided to conduct an experiment to showcase the importance of changing small everyday habits for a huge impact – choosing the National Games hosted by the state in 2015 to kickstart the exercise.
“We believe that waste minimisation is the only solution to this problem in the long run. And also that life can continue just fine if we go back to living the way we used to live 30-40 years ago, in some ways at least. Like the recent trend of one-time use-and-throw consumer goods such as disposable glasses, plates, aluminium foil, etc. – it has been happening only for the past 20 years and is worsening the waste management situation,” she says.
So the use of all such goods was banned during the National Games. The caterers and organisers were given a strict directive that no disposable items like mineral water bottles, plastic glasses, etc., should be used. Only re-usable plastic, steel and ceramic utensils were allowed.
The event turned out to be a highly successful and appreciated one. The team was able to prevent 600 tonnes of wastage. They coined the name Green Protocol for the initiative and are now implementing it in all major events in the state.
Reuse: Inspired by the concept of garage sales adopted in many countries, Dr. Vasuki arranged some snap shops in Kerala where used electronic and textile items that would have been discarded otherwise were sold. She is planning to open more such shops across the state and turn this practice into a habit.
Recycle: As a part of the Suchitwa Mission, she has registered 300-500 rag pickers and scrap dealers who are a part of the informal recycling system. All scrap dealers will be provided ID cards with the logo of the Mission, to give them the recognition and dignity they deserve.
Green swearing-in ceremony: The recent swearing-in ceremony of cabinet members of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government after the 2016 Kerala Assembly elections was a very successful example of the Green Protocol. Organised by Dr. Vasuki and her team, this was the first time that minimising waste generation was made a priority at a government swearing-in ceremony.
A team of 100 volunteers helped in organising the green event at Thiruvananthapuram Central Stadium.
Steel glasses were arranged and facilities for cleaning them at regular intervals were available. “Let us kick start this government on a green note. Our humble effort is to convey a strong message that the current trend of indiscriminate use of one-time-use-and-throw items can never sustain us on this planet. This is an effort to showcase that it is everyone’s responsibility, and prevention /minimisation of waste is the only environment-friendly solution,” Dr. Vasuki said before the ceremony.
She is also in discussions with the High Court to implement the concept of Green Protocol there.
As for the general public, Dr. Vasuki’s message is very simple: “Not having five minutes of time for waste management every day is like saying – ‘I don’t have time for exercise.’ Ultimately, we spend more by paying for our health. Unfortunately in this case, it might not be your health but your child’s. You have the power in your hands. You decide.”
An MBBS from Madras Medical College, Dr. Vasuki joined the Civil Services in 2008 in the Madhya Pradesh cadre. She came to Kerala in 2014 and also holds the position of Assistant to Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala.
The 34-year-old says she wanted to serve people from a very young age and the turning point in her life was when she saw IAS officers working very hard in the rescue operations during the 2004 tsunami. Witnessing the range of their work and the ways in which IAS officers can help people inspired her to become one herself.
You can contact her by writing to [email protected].