Coimbatore could be squeaky clean in 2014 — if other wards emulate the good work that Ward 23 has done.

“We wondered if the public would co-operate. Would busy housewives agree to segregate?” says S. Manimekalai, councillor, Ward 23. These doubts came up when they decided to make the ward garbage free and get its inhabitants to segregate their waste.

Less than three months ago, on October 2, Mayor S.M. Velusamy, Corporation Commissioner G. Latha and volunteers from the NGOs Siruthuli and RAAC (Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore) congregated at R.S. Puram and launched the Shunya Project that aimed to create awareness about segregation of waste and garbage disposal. The International Council for Local Environment Initiative (ICLIE), funded by the European Union, sanctioned Rs. 85 lakh for the venture in Coimbatore. Out of the seven cities selected for this task in South Asia, two are in India. One is Shimla and the other Coimbatore.

R. Raveendran, Secretary of RAAC, explains: “There are two parts to this project. The first is to educate people about source segregation and the second is to implement it.” The ultimate goal is to ensure that the garbage produced in Ward 23 does not go out of there. Wet waste will be composted in the same area, he says. If every ward achieved segregation at source, the volume of garbage being sent to the Corporation dumpyard in Vellalore would reduce drastically, he says.

“The motivation is high,” says Manimekalai. “It is an honour that this ward was selected for Shunya. When we began, we spent three hours each morning, going door-to-door, explaining the process of segregation and the need for it. We made follow-up visits to see if people were segregating the waste. Most residents complied. After a month, we announced that if they did not segregate, we would not clear their garbage. A few people, very few, did not comply and threatened to complain to higher authorities. But we stuck to our guns with the support of the Mayor and Commissioner. When the garbage remained untouched, these residents relented.”

Geeta Sridhar, one of the volunteers who has criss-crossed the ward generating awareness on this matter, says many people did not know how to go about separating the dry waste from the wet. Then again, there were those who have been doing this for years despite watching their segregated waste all being dumped together at the same place. Geeta said that in a majority of the homes, it was the domestic help who threw out the garbage. “They often work in 10 to 15 homes a day, and it is unfair to expect them to take the initiative to segregate. The residents should take the onus.”

Ward 23 is already on the job of sharing their template for success with five other wards. If the good work spreads, it could be a clean sweep for Coimbatore in 2014.

Meet Nagaraj

A special scheme provides conservancy workers great incentive. B. Nagaraj is a hero. He collects 50 to 60 kg of dry waste every day. He has been trained by the Corporation and is part of a scheme that allows him to earn extra money. He leads the brigade when it comes to collecting dry waste. The other workers who deserve honourable mention are D. Shanmugham and Gopal, though they trail far behind Nagaraj. Of the 92 conservancy workers in this ward, 25 of them collect the garbage from ‘4,200 doors’, including residences and commercial establishments. The dry waste that Nagaraj and his co-workers collect is weighed, marked with their name and sold to ITC at Rs. 3 a kilo. That money is put separately into a bank account in their names. Nagaraj proudly declares that he has earned Rs. 6,352 extra last month alone! So motivated is he that while most of his fellow workers go home in the afternoons, he does several rounds more to collect discarded plastics and cardboard boxes. He says that he is saving that extra money to spend in Surat. As part of the Shunya Project, five best conservancy workers will be flown to Surat. According to the volunteers and NGOs involved, this scheme has given the conservancy workers a sense of purpose, a dignity of labour and of course the much needed income.