Champions of plastic-free forest

Shaila Patagara and Vinoda Marati at Yana, Uttara Kannada.Photos by author

If you visit Yana, one of the key tourist attractions of Kumta taluk in Uttara Kannada district, you will certainly meet two women in khaki uniform, somewhere along the walking path leading to the mammoth rocks outcrops. You will find them walking with a metal stick with a hook at one end. They pick plastic wrappers and bottles thrown by tourists and deposit them in the bins. They are seen doing this the whole day.

Yana is different from other trekking sites in terms of cleanliness. It is free from plastic litter thanks to the commitment of these two women who have collected at least three tonnes of plastic from Yana and its surroundings in the past three years. 

Women with a mission

Shaila Patagara and Vinoda Marati, the two women in uniform, are responsible for maintaining Yana as a plastic-free zone. They were appointed by the Village Forest Committee of Yana, which comes under the Katagal Forest Range, with the objective of maintaining cleanliness at the popular tourist spot.

“We are working here since January 2017, and our job is to keep the surroundings free of plastic. We collect at least 5 kg of plastic every day. This quantity doubles during weekends when the crowd is more,” says Shaila.

Yana caves are visited by an average of one lakh tourists every year, and it is a Herculean task to maintain the place clean. “We planned to appoint two persons under Village Forest Committee with a special task of collecting plastic waste. Our idea worked very well, as Shaila and Vinoda deliver their duties sincerely and effectively,” an official attached to Katagal Forest Range said.

Shaila and Vinoda are from the same village and feel proud that their village attracts thousands of tourists from across the country, and sometimes, even abroad. They even feel proud to work for the betterment of the place, but are disappointed that the tourists have no regard for cleanliness in spite of the continuous efforts of the Forest Department to create awareness.

“We not only pick plastic waste but also educate people to keep the forest plastic-free. A lot of signboards advocating responsible behaviour have been installed by the Forest Department along the path leading to the caves, despite which people throw wrappers and bottles here and there,” says Vinoda.

The collected waste is handed over to the Kumta town municipality at regular intervals. The two women receive a monthly honorarium of Rs 7500 each for their committed service.

The number of visitors to Yana caves, located in the Sahyadri mountain range (Western Ghats), is increasing every year, and naturally, there are concerns over keeping the area clean. “It is not the duty of just these two women or the Forest Department to keep this place clean and safe. Tourists are equally, if not more, responsible,” say local people. 

According to Parashuram Aikur, a visitor from Manjalapura in Yadgir district, the tourist sites can be maintained well only if tourists cooperate. “We don’t have to do much. Just following the rules of the place will go a long way in not disturbing the aesthetics and environment of the place. It is inspiring to see the selfless service of these women,” he said.

“Most tourists are educated people but unfortunately, they are least bothered about the cleanliness of the place. Government and laws alone won’t suffice. It will be difficult to preserve our environment unless people’s mindset changes,” notes Kavitha P, a tourist from Kadaba village in Gubbi taluk.

The two massive rock outcrops — the 390-foot Bhairaveshwara Shikhara and the 300-foot Mohini Shikhara — at Yana have been considered as one of the natural wonders of the country. The magnificent rocks made up of solid black, crystalline Karst limestone are located amidst lush green forest and pristine streams and waterfalls. The site will certainly make any visitor wonder-struck and one can find solace from the stressful life. However, tourists should learn that the serenity of the place can be protected only when they understand their responsibilities towards nature.

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