Anti-plastic drive in Sabarimala intensifies

Anti-plastic drive in Sabarimala intensifies

“Let’s offer prayers, not plastic”, says a pamphlet distributed by the Mission Green Sabarimala (MGS) volunteers among pilgrims at the Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala.

Awareness on plastic waste hazards in and around the hill shrine visited by millions of pilgrims (this year, till Monday, the figure is close to 5 million) is still in focus.

The Pathanamthitta district administration, however, is also bracing for the big shift — from guidelines to enforcement — by the next pilgrimage season.

During the initial stages of the campaign, frisking of pilgrims was discussed but dropped, over possibilities of confrontation.

 But the MGS is now building a case for stringent checks on strong footing — a high court order which bans plastic use in and around Sabarimala from February 1, a fortnight after this year’s makaravilakku season ends.

 Over the next two years, the district administration plans to put in place stop-and-search systems and fines.

“There was a need to ensure more awareness before we explored options of a legal ban or a fine. In the next phase, stringent regulations will be in place,” S Harikishore, District Collector, said.

The numbers tell a grim story — every year, about two million PET bottles are sold along the trekking paths.

 Tonnes of plastic, dumped in form of carry-bags and wrappers, impact the region’s ecology and wildlife.

 In February 2014, a female elephant was found dead in the district’s Periyar west division, on one of the pilgrim routes. The elephant had consumed about two kg of plastic refuse which caused death from intestinal blockage.

The campaign calls for a shift from plastic bags to bags made of biodegradable materials, reusable containers and bottles.

The Forest Department, state sanitation agency Shuchitwa Mission, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and women’s self-help group Kudumbashree are partners in MGS.

 At the two major check-points, Forest Department officials stop vehicles for Kudumbashree volunteers to collect plastic bags from pilgrims and distribute cloth bags. Ten-member volunteer teams from 54 panchayats work at the check-points on daily shifts.

“We can’t collect water bottles from the pilgrims but with a Reverse Osmosis plant (being installed by the Kerala Water Authority) coming up at the base camp, we could reduce the use of plastic water bottles,” Sriram Venkitaraman, Assistant Collector, told Deccan Herald. The TDB also plans to install about 50 drinking water kiosks along the trekking route.

The TDB, along with private partners, has set up plastic exchange counters where pilgrims can deposit plastic waste in exchange for cloth bags. The campaign is highlighted along trekking routes through signage, pamphlets and CDs. Premjith, supervisor at a 24/7 volunteer booth, said more than 10,000 CDs on the project were distributed since December 1. “We plan to get in touch with guruswamis (pilgrim group leaders) from other states ahead of the next season to ensure that the regulations are followed,” Harikishore said.

The MGS team has opened a social media campaign and created a website — www.missiongreensabarimala.com — to seek public participation in the project.

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