This article is part of a deep dive to celebrate Environment Day by highlighting individual and community action that leads to large scale impact on the planet. ItStartsWithMe is the second chapter of ‘Shaping Sustainability’, an exclusive series by The Better India, to give our readers an in-depth understanding of how Indians are making sustainability a priority in all walks of life. Find more stories from the series here
When Rajasthan-born and Delhi-bred Priyanka Tiwari married in 2019, she shifted to a village called Rajpur in Uttar Pradesh. Her first impression of the place was not pleasant. The lack of a proper management system and functionalities in the village made it difficult to live in. Improper waste management, damaged drains, and a lack of crematoriums were some of the issues.
Priyanka, a mass communication graduate, was always a socially conscious individual. She felt an urge to bring about changes in the whole area and often discussed this with her in-laws. Her husband, a businessman, father-in-law, a professor and mother-in-law, a teacher, always agreed and supported her words.
When the 2021 Panchayat elections were announced, Priyanka’s father-in-law felt that it was the best opportunity for her to show her passion and skills. ”If you want to bring about a change in this place, this is a golden chance,” he said to Priyanka. Following these words, then 29-year-old contested for the Sarpanch’s position – and won.
The very next day after Priyanka’s oath-taking ceremony, plastic was banned in Rajpur panchayat. “Ceasing plastic usage can’t be done in a day. I was sure that it would be a long process,” says Priyanka, the sarpanch.
The panchayat distributed cloth bags to shopkeepers, roadside vendors, and houses as the first step. Secondly, they imposed a fine on them – Rs 500 for first-timers, Rs 1000 for second-timers and the next time, the licence of that shop would be cancelled. Simultaneously, awareness classes on the damage caused by plastic were also conducted.
Through these methods, 30-35 per cent of plastic use was reduced.
Secondly, realising that children, in the form of snack packets and chocolate wrappers, contribute to plastic waste, they were encouraged to collect it and earn Rs 2 per kg. Also, awareness classes were held in schools and colleges. This way, 70-75 per cent of plastic usage was lessened.
“My dream is to bring this number to 95 per cent in the upcoming two years. I hope the awareness programmes to both elders and children will help these processes to continue even after my tenure as the sarpanch,” she shares.
According to her, about 75-80 per cent of the total population of Rajpur gram panchayat consists of people belonging to scheduled castes/ tribes. However, not many of them are educated, and thus direct awareness classes would help coach them.
Graduation student and 21-year-old Shubham Agnihotri says, “Waste segregation has always been an issue in our village. I am glad that we have now got a permanent solution for it. Most of the villagers are now aware, and they follow the rules strictly.”
Plastic banks were installed in each village to collect waste. Then, inspired by Priyanka, the Uttar Pradesh government introduced a plastic collection centre. The collected waste is taken to a machine that converts it into granules and will be given to Public Works Department (PWD) for road tarring.
Greywater recycling and crematorium
“For greywater management, we have set up community soak pits in the four corners of the
village. These soak pits have not been connected to the village pond yet. At present, it is used for groundwater recharging. We hope to construct a silt chamber to filter the water before connecting the community soak pits to the pond, and then this water will be used for irrigation,” explains Priyanka.
Another major issue in the village is the lack of proper crematoriums. “One day, while travelling back to my place from Delhi, I observed a helpless family waiting for the downpour to settle so that they could cremate their dear one’s body,” she reminisces. “This incident prompted me to build a crematorium in the village. Its construction is almost over and will be working within a month.”
Varsha Singh, a 24-year-old from the panchayat, says, “Crematorium was an urgent need of the place. It is tough to do the process in a random barren land. I hope the construction work gets over soon, and it starts functioning, thanks to Priyanka ji.”
The crematorium’s work is planned so that any people, regardless of caste or class, can use the facility.
Besides these activities, which were done within a year, Priyanka has also set up a library in the panchayat. “We can’t afford to buy new books and fill the shelves as many activities are happening in the place right now. So we are waiting for some donations in the form of money and books to get the ball rolling,” says the sarpanch.
The passionate youngster has taken significant steps to change the face of a panchayat within one year of being in the position. Her panchayat has received Rs 9 lakh recently as part of the Chief Minister’s Award, and she is planning to set up a reverse osmosis water plant using the amount.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)