The Mutha river in Pune is one of the most polluted rivers in Maharashtra and has been infested by water hyacinth, the weed which drains oxygen from the water, for a few years now.
This aquatic plant is highly invasive, and while activists and government authorities have been making efforts to clean the river and remove the menace, the weed finds its way back to the river each time.
However, this new initiative by the residents of Vitthalwadi in Pune, and Brown Leaf, an NGO, is sure to end the woes for at least a small stretch of the Mutha river.
Following the philosophy that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, about 35 residents of Vitthalwadi have adopted a one km stretch of the Mutha river.
Every Sunday, these concerned citizens go to the river bed and take out the water hyacinth polluting it.
But that is not all.
Brown Leaf—an NGO that works towards optimal use of dry leaves—realised that the hyacinth cleared by authorities and volunteers was not utilised efficiently, and was lying in heaps near the river bank, and polluting the surroundings. The NGO decided to conduct an experiment, and use these plants as compost on the river bed instead.
Volunteers were taught how to alternate layers of hyacinth and dry leaves on the river bed to decompose both of them effectively. Aditi Deodhar, the founder of Brown Leaf, told Pune Mirror, “Every species has an ecological check— meaning it is kept in control by some other species. In case of water hyacinth, only this weed was brought here, not the beetle that feeds on it. Most people know that this water hyacinth is an invasive aquatic plant that is hazardous to the river and its aquatic life. By getting it out of the water body and embedding it in the soil with dry leaves, it cannot survive and rapidly speeds up the composting process. Plus, nutrients get fed directly into the ground.”
Hemant Pawar, one of the adopters, thinks of this as a brilliant idea that would finally bring a solution to the hyacinth problem and is more sustainable than just dumping them on the river bed.
Speaking to Pune Mirror, he said, “My family and I were already regularly involved in river and riverbank cleaning drives, but after clearing the hyacinth, these plants used to collect in heaps on the riverside. A few days ago, volunteers of this NGO informed us about their idea of composting the weed, which is an excellent concept.”
The main aim of these volunteers is to let the river flora flourish without the invasive hyacinth feeding on all the resources. The cleared hyacinth is decomposed along with dry leaves, and the volunteers plan on planting trees in the compost pits as soon as the monsoons start.
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Speaking about the ups and downs of this experiment, Aditi said, “We are trying to revive riparian vegetation, but last year, since the land was too rocky, none of our plantations survived. This year, we are quite sure that in the monsoon, if our plantation is done on this compost site, the possibility of survival will rise.”
While there still are a few concerns like the possibility that the weed may carry additional pollutants to the soil, the efforts taken to conduct the experiment must be applauded. The team shows how citizens are willing to undertake voluntary work when the results are sustainable and eco-friendly.
Utilising an invasive plant species as manure for a green river bed is like a checklist of good work with all boxes ticked!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)