By Chitra Ahanthem
Over the years, Imphal has come to be so ravaged by plastic that various campaigns have come up to clean up waste plastic. There is also the ban on plastic use but we all know that each of us pay no heed to the ban, which in a sense is as good as not being there in the first place. The litter caused by plastic is more to do with the poly bags and the increasing use of mineral water bottles on one hand while on the other, there is little civic sense and the absence of garbage bins in public places. Also, there is no effective campaign for people to use alternatives other than plastic carrier bags. The lack of garbage dumping sites also mean that when certain areas are cleared of litter, it gets dumped somewhere else as someone’s eye sore, not to mention being a major irritant to the nose(s)!
While the campaigns to clean up Imphal are commendable, the lack of a sustained civic sense in the common man and the absence of a concerted effort makes Imphal what it is today: garbage here, there and everywhere; to be cleaned up today but back tomorrow. The truth is that despite the campaigns, Imphal continues to look a little bit less littered with plastic during the different campaign duration with the end of the campaign signaling a return of the waste back on the streets. A friend who is going to launch another campaign to clear off waste does have a valid point when he says that often the elders of a family will tell the children in the family to drop waste in the dust bin but that when those elders go out, they won’t hesitate to drop their empty mineral water bottles, the empty food packets out on the streets. He says that civic sense looks like it is limited only within the compounds of the house. There is no doubt about the double standards here: a clean home is desired for, an untidy surrounding is ok as long as it doesn’t get on my immediate line of sight and smell but the fact is also that dust bins have to be placed in public spaces, which then must be disposed off. There was a stage when concrete garbage disposal places were built in parts of Imphal but because the garbage did not get picked up, it only led to more stench.
There had to be another way out rather than the mere picking up of garbage from residential areas and then dumping in a less populated area like Langol. There is no saying that the toxic from the waste wont impact the ecology or the bio diversity of that area which feeds a lot of aquatic life, not to forget of course, the paddy and other crops that are grown there.
In the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, the seriousness of intent is seen in the array of dust-bins that one sees by the roads in every village. There is nothing fancy happening: just waist high wooden logs stringing up two empty bins: one for non-degradable waste and one for the degradable ones. These can be found at every 10 minutes distance of walking, much like one finds ATMs in cities: within easy reach. The effort to keep the place clean is not limited to the capital city of Shillong but involves every village level. Thus, people will happily use cloth or jute bags and shop-keepers ask customers whether they really need plastic bags to carry.
There is no reason why we cannot replicate this in Manipur. But the effort has to go beyond time specific campaigns and the nature of being limited to certain Departments and Non Governemnet Organizations. It has to go to schools and colleges and to community leaders at the Leikai level. Each Leikai has got a “Club” which can be brought into the campaign for a cleaner place to live in. The Government and the concerned authorities on their part can ensure the waste pick -ups and their disposal or even recycling. There also needs to be a serious look at the ban on plastic use, in terms of implementing it. Maybe impose a “clean up a 1 km radius” for every person who uses plastic bags. Doing away with plastic bags will only be of advantage to the handloom industry since cloth bags can take their place.
End-point: The only people who could be a tad worse off if people did away with plastic bags totally would of course be those who drink the local brew that comes in those plastic pouches!
A song refrain penned by a young poet to be used for an upcoming clean up campaign on the state of affairs best describes it:
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