R. Raveendran, of the Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore, believes in people power. He assures that Coimbatore could be a model city if everyone did their bit.

“We will come and talk to the residents of your apartments about garbage segregation,” offers R. Raveendran. In the area where he lives, he and other residents have ensured the colony is clean and green. And he sees no reason why rest of Coimbatore cannot follow suit. “You don’t need thousand people for a revolution. Helen Keller was a one-woman team who created global awareness about blindness. Just one voice is enough to make a difference,” he says.

As honorary secretary of the Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC), Raveendran is doing just that – making a difference. He and his team are involved in projects that range from greening and garbage segregation to de-silting water bodies and developing infrastructure in Coimbatore.

“I had not given a thought to any of these issues until I joined the Noyyal Yatra organised by Siruthuli. My childhood classmate, G. Soundararajan of CRI Pumps, invited me for it. I am from Coimbatore and I was not even aware of the existence of the Noyyal. I was moved to see the sorry state of the river and how volunteers worked to clean it.”`

Being the change

That triggered Raveendran to ‘be the change’. Raveendran feels every one should volunteer their time to society. “Even if it is only once a month or once a year. We have to own our city. Politicians come and go, but we live here,” he says. He detests armchair criticism and says he often sympathises with the administration. If the citizens co-operate with the Corporation/Government, things will move.

He gives the example of many localities in the city where residents contribute a small sum of money towards employing people to come door-to-door to collect the garbage which they carry to a common point, where it is segregated. The Corporation’s dump truck takes it away. This keeps the locality clean and helps the Corporation to work more efficiently. “It will cost no more than Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 a resident a month to do this, but we are often reluctant to part with even this small an amount.”

Extraordinary commitment

But Raveendran is convinced that Coimbatore can still be saved, because of extraordinary commitment of ordinary people. School dropouts, poor farmers, tea sellers on trains… I have seen them work for the environment, expecting nothing in return. They have given money and time they can ill afford to causes they believe in. And I have never heard them complain like many of us constantly do.” RAAC recognises these heroes with Eco Awards.

RAAC also works as an interface among NGOs and is a platform to liaise with the administration. It initiates development of infrastructure, including air, road and rail links, besides cleaning and greening initiatives. Along with Siruthuli, it has nearly 7,000 trees in its care. “We are planning more urban forests around the city,” he says.

“I can’t say it often enough, but executing a vision requires the entire city to come together,” says Raveendran. Speaking of forging a symbiotic relationship with the Government or administration and the people, he says: “I have always found that every department has a few individuals who really care and who will go out of their way to help. Our task is to identify those people and work with them.” He gives the example of the current project RAAC is involved in — the humongous task of de-silting the Periyakulam. A corporate house, green NGOs and the Coimbatore Corporation have come together to execute the project (see box).

The greater good

Raveendran has his own business. But, he feels he has a duty to society. He even finds ways to use his love for literature to help others. He is part of a literary group called Oonjal that encourages Tamil writers. Oonjal regularly buys and distributes books to students to spread awareness about good literature. But Raveendran refuses to take sole credit for anything he does. It is joint effort, he insists. “I have learnt so much from fellow workers. I am constantly amazed that there are so many people who are willing to take time off and care about society. They have no ulterior motives, just concern for fellow citizens, the environment and the future generations.”

In a nutshell, Raveendran’s philosophy can be summed up in his favourite quote: “...I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

On saving a lake

“While faith can move mountains, in Coimbatore it is de-silting lakes,” says Raveendran.

On May 2, RAAC obtained permission from the Collector to begin de-silting work on Periyakulam

The project is a joint venture with RAAC, Siruthuli, Sree Vijayalakshmi Charitable Trust and the District and city administration

The 320-acre Periyakulam at Ukkadam with a circumference of six-and-a-half km will have a bund around it, created from the excavated silt

The silt will also be used to create islands in the lake, where indigenous trees will be planted. This will attract birdlife

Five huge excavators and 50 people work day and night to de-silt the lake

If this project is a success, it will be a motivation to replicate it in the other water bodies in the city

Be a part of the initiative

On Sunday, May 19, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. there is a shramdan. All are invited to join in. For every handful of silt you take out, you are resurrecting one handful of water, say the organisers. The shramdan will happen every Sunday till the onset of the monsoon. People are requested to bring their own tools to symbolically remove the silt. To know more, call: 0422- 4241830.

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