September 2, 2015
M.B. Nirmal is a well-known flag bearer of environmentalism, especially in Chennai. He is the brain behind ExNoRa, which stands for Excellent, Novel and Radical ideas. Practicing what he preaches, the 73-year-old activist has created a garden with 1,700 plants in his flat in Koyambedu, Chennai.
Each of his three balconies at the flat has a name: Flower shower, veggie table, and green pharmacy. He grows herbal plants in the green pharmacy. He calls his living room the oxygen parlour.
The activist rues the lack of space to grow more plants. “Farmlands are shrinking. So I decided to convert my house into a vertical garden. We use PVC pipes, pots, drums, racks, and sticks to make the plants grow. All my windows are covered with creepers. It was actor Vivek who opened the garden four years ago,” he told Covaipost.
“Innovation is the name of the game. And ExNoRa is my inspiration,” Nirmal said. His other big inspiration is GD Naidu. “He not only excelled as an industrialist but also innovated in agriculture. He was way ahead of his time,” said Nirmal.
“Waste is not waste unless it is wasted,” said Nirmal.
A bank-employee-turned activist, Nirmal started with Kamraj Avenue in Adyar in 1989, when ExNoRa was launched. “Each unit has a president, a senior citizen, and a woman representative. Once we started it in a few streets, it gained momentum and residents from other streets joined in,” he recalled.
In 1997, they started propagating source segregation and zero waste management. The turning point came in 2000, after private conservancy operator, CES Onyx, stepped in to clear the city garbage. He thought that the two could work together, but the initiative failed because their ideologies were different. Onyx modernised garbage clearance, and residents had to pay nothing. This, says Nirmal, led to a gradual decline in the motivation levels of residents.
Though the subsequent private operators did not match Onyx, according to him, he says Exnora wanted to wait for residents’ response before their revival. He now believes that he can rebuild a community movement.