Tired of Delhiites using religious rituals as an excuse to pollute the Yamuna, an NGO has decided to intercept devotees before they fling their offerings into the river.
Four strategically-placed vessels, shaped like giant matkas (earthen pots), are placed on the ITO Bridge from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day to collect flowers, earthen idols and other ceremonial offerings.
As vehicles slow down near the fenced boundary of the bridge, attendants approach them, asking if the occupants have anything to throw in the river. The offerings are then taken to Ghazipur and segregated for recycling.
Run by the Youth Fraternity Foundation, with help from the Delhi Government’s Environment Department, the initiative is aimed at reducing pollution in the Yamuna. The ‘pushpanjali prawaha patras’ (offering collection boxes) are placed on cycle-carts along the bridge.
This project was first started in October last year, when these carts would go to popular temples across the city to collect offerings. Around a month ago, the NGO decided to focus on solid waste being dumped from the ITO Bridge. Now, the carts make a round of temples in the morning before reaching the bridge.
“You will not believe what all we have collected. From flowers to religious calendars, to even shoes have been collected by our kalash (vessel),” said YFF president Guru Dutt Aakash.
In Ghazipur, the offerings are sorted into different piles like paper, flowers, plastics, earthenware, coconut husks etc.
The biodegradable waste is turned into compost and the rest is recycled.
“We haven’t been able to recycle the idols as of now as we don’t have the relevant machine, so we are collecting them and looking for alternatives. We have four truckloads of idols alone out of the 32 truckloads of material we have collected so far,” he added.
The Environment Department, which sanctioned the project around three months ago, gave the foundation Rs.3 lakh to pay salaries and procure the vessels and carts. “We wanted to make Yamuna less polluted and also respect people’s religious sentiments,” said Environment Department Director Dr. Anil Kumar.
Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan welcomed the initiative.
“It is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be done on a sustained basis at all such bridges in the city,” he said.
And that is exactly what the foundation hopes to do if this pilot project works out.
“We could provide employment to over 600 people all over Delhi and really make a dent in the pollution level of the river,” said Mr. Aakash.
Currently, the foundation is using personal funding from members to run the pilot scheme in addition to government assistance, but it is hoping to get financial help to expand the project.
With a different kind of ‘divine intervention’, the foundation is hoping to restore the Yamuna to its past glory.