The district administration of Odisha’s Keonjhar has set an amazing precedent by deciding to replace all plastic bowls, bottles and cutlery in the collectorate with sustainable alternatives made out of sal leaves – an abundant forest resource in the region. Moreover, the local tribal women are being roped in to handcraft the sal leaf plates, thus empowering them with a new source of income.
The Keonjhar District Magistrate, Ashish Thakare, made this decision because he believed it was high time to go eco-friendly at the administerial level.
Talking to The Better India (TBI), he says, “We have been trying to implement the measure for quite some time now. Keonjhar is well-known for its sal forests. Sal leaf products are a specialty here. It was about time we ditched the plastic for a cleaner & greener alternative.”
In order to promote the use of thee eco-friendly sal leaves plates, the DM found his collectorate the best place to kick off the project.
Even around a decade ago, wedding feasts in Odisha would be incomplete without palatable homely meals, graciously served in beautiful sal leaf plates, locally termed as ‘Khali’. The khalis would mostly be accompanied by clay water glasses and bowls. The natural aroma of dried or fresh green sal leaves would only accentuate the taste of the food served in it.
Fascinatingly, not a shred of plastic or any non-biodegradable waste would be left behind, no matter how grand a feast was. However, the scenario changed almost overnight with the advent of disposable, single-use plastic cutlery. From urban settlements, the trend penetrated the rural interiors.
Sal leaf plates took a backseat in the village homes as plastic was cheaper and easier to avail. Soon, heaps of discarded plastic plates, bowls and cups were an eyesore in picturesque hamlets.
However, this affected the forest-dependent tribal communities of Keonjhar – the district well-known for its widespread sal forests. The livelihood of these indigenous inhabitants solely comprised of making plates and cups made from sal leaves. Thousands were rendered jobless and were forced to give up their ancestral vocation.
The present mandate set by the Keonjhar district administration has three-pronged advantages. Aside from its environmental benefits, the sal leaf plates will revive the traditional trade and empower tribal women in turn.
“The decision was officially adopted by a circular issued around a month ago. In addition to the sal plates, we were also instructed to bring our own water bottles to office everyday,” informs Akshay Das, the head clerk at Keonjhar district collectorate.
As of now, several self-help groups in Telkoi, Banspal and Harichandanpur villages of Keonjhar have been assigned with the task of manufacturing these plates and bowls on a mass scale. “More than 500 women are expected to be involved in the project and earn a sizeable monthly income,” informs Swapan Goswami, a nodal officer in charge of the project.
Interestingly, under Ashish Thakare’s supervision, the Keonjhar collectorate has initiated several projects to improve the livelihood opportunities of the tribal women. To ease their household responsibility, free creches have also been opened where the women can keep their children safe while they are at work.
Keonjhar collectorate has proved to be a trailblazer in this much-needed eco-friendly initiative. It is high time that the rest of the country follow suit.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)