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17 Apr 2024, Edition - 3200, Wednesday

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Coonoor shows the power of citizens’ initiative



Udhagamandalam For long few and far between, local attempts to address problems confronting the Nilgiris, particularly on the civic front are,of late,becoming conspicuous. This augurs well for the district which for several decades has been dependent only on officials and sometimes elected representatives to deal with such issues.In fact,this writer has for many years been recording, albeit silently, periodical observations of those at the helm of affairs including collectors and superintendents of Police that one of the biggest problems of the Nilgiris was that local initiative to deal with common problems was inadequate.

Now with local initiative becoming more than visible and the social media fuelling their growth the hope is that effective damage control measures can be taken up jointly by the authorities and the citizens. A case in point is the ‘Clean Coonoor’ campaign.Come Wednesday a revamped and modernized ‘Waste Management Park’ facilitated by the campaign will be dedicated to the people of Coonoor by the Nilgiris Collector Mrs.J.Innocent Divya.It is an accepted fact that no campaign or citizens initiative can succeed without some hand holding.The Clean Coonoor campaign too owes its success to a significant extent to Mrs.Divya.

A theory which many including this writer subscribe to is that of all the places in the Nilgiris district Coonoor stands out vis a viscitizens initiative.It has enjoyed this reputation for long.The Clean Coonoor campaign is in keeping with this. Speaking to The Covai Post a member of the campaign Dr.PJ.Vasanthan pointed out that it all began towards the end of 2014, when on noticing the amount of litter left behind by tourists near Sim’s Park, a citizen of Coonoor posted a few pictures of the same on Facebook, followed by a statement that she was going to try and clear up the mess all by herself the next day.

The post had its desired effect, for the day after witnessed a few like-minded individuals joining her in her efforts, and soon the region was free of trash. On that day was born, ‘Clean Coonoor,’ an informal citizen’s group of like minded individuals, filled with one singular purpose, to keep the town clean. Soon cleanups aided by civic authorities, became a regular feature on the Coonoor landscape. Realising that cleanups alone were not a panacea for tackling the larger problem of littering, the group extended its activities to other spheres, and shortly heritage walks, symposia, eco-restoration, and such, were held in a way to awaken a feeling of pride in the township and a sense of responsibility, in the minds of the resident and tourist alike.

Clean Coonoor witnessed its first turning point on the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction which falls on 13 October each year. This was the date when in 2018, volunteers took upon themselves, the daunting task of cleaning stormwater drains and culverts. The idea to work on the surface drainage was the brainchild of the then Revenue Divisional Officer, and it quickly met the approbation of the District Collector. This new activity caught the eye of both the public and the media, and soon support both monetary and moral started coming in.

The next lucky break came when Clean Coonoor was exploring ways and means to clean a part of the Coonoor River and its feeders, which for the last 4 decades had been choked with dirt and debris of all description. Funding apart, the problem of disposing off the debris excavated during such a proceeding loomed large. At the suggestion of the Municipal Health Officer of Coonoor, it was decided to deposit the same at the municipal dump yard in an effort to landscape the latter. Clean Coonoor’s activities in general and the last proposal in particular, caught the attention of one of the founder-members of the Hyderabad based Gandipet Welfare Society*, a NGO which specialises in waste management, who offered to fund the entire project.

Realising that to handle such funding would necessitate more accountability, the informal citizen’s group was registered as a trust on 29 April 2019. The cleanup of the middle stream of the Coonoor River which lasted for around 42 days, was flagged off by the District Collector on the occasion of World Environment Day, and simultaneously the dump yard was spruced up day by day with the soil dug up from the riverbed. The results were so encouraging that with further funding, from individuals and institutions from within and outside the district, a section of the upper stream was soon taken up to be cleaned. This operation which took around 25 days to complete, commenced on World River’s Day, a day when the citizenry of the town rose up to the occasion with a grand launch.

The dump yard is now all set to be inaugurated as a ‘Waste Management Park’ equipped with a machine to bale plastics for compact storage and easy transport, a napkin and rag destroyer to deal with the same, and a shredder and a compost bin to deal with fish and poultry waste. Nor is the new appellation to the dump yard a euphemism. It has now been landscaped in a way that it ceases to be an eyesore, and is presently a lovely picnic spot spruced up with trim lawns, flowerbeds, and shrubberies. This painstaking landscaping done entirely by volunteers, is for the purpose of removing the stigma attached to such areas, where, waste generated solely by humanity, is dealt with.
Clean Coonoor will be working further on the Waste Management Park till such a time that the backlog of trash to be disposed off is complete.

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