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Mountain makeover

Students giving the streets of Ooty a new look.  

Can Facebook go beyond selfies and telling your spouse/child how much you love them? A small group of people in Udhagamandalam and Coonoor in the Nilgiris proved that it could do so through the FB page ‘ >Life in the Blue Mountains’. Its mission statement is “people passionately interested in issues facing The Nilgiris can come together to share information, discuss means to engender change and form a vibrant group to safeguard the ecology and heritage of the hills.”

Life in the Blue Mountains was difficult not only for the residents but also for those who had made the mountains their home for a brief while. There was a daily rant of unswept streets, bad roads and garbage mounds.

Spurred by a common need to bring these mountain towns back to their former glory, citizens came out on to the streets. Armed with brooms, rakes, shovels, gloves, face masks and garbage bags, they decided to attack the decay on a war footing. The group has people from all walks of life — office goers, doctors, restaurant owners, shopkeepers, socialites and teachers.

Shobana Chandrashekhar of Udhagamandalam gave up her business to concentrate on the Make Ooty Beautiful (MOB) project. She says the garbage on the streets, in the forests, streams and storm water drains has been a source of frustration for years. Finally, she and her nine-year-old daughter took the fight to the streets, educating the public. She called for a meeting and, after a brainstorming session, decided to involve school students and other organisations. Every week, members of the Make Ooty Beautiful (MOB) clean up specific areas of the town.

To sustain the project, they need to get more people involved and claim ownership of public spaces, she says. MOB is also working with villages and communities to create awareness on segregation of garbage and composting. Garbage is, of course, a major problem. Often, when cleaning is done, the garbage is simply displaced. MOB gives what can be recycled to scrap dealers. The remaining is thrown in public bins. Initially, the municipality pitched in, sending their vans and trucks to collect. However, now it pleads lack of funds, resources, equipment and personnel.

The Oxford Continental School adopted a one-km stretch of road that leads to their school. The students and teachers take care of this road and, under the aegis of the municipality, will fix the pot holes and plant flowers and hedges on the roadside. Pamini Suresh, Founder-Principal, says her advice to her students is “Let the problem come from anywhere, the solution will come from us.”

Close by in Coonoor, on Deepavali day last year, Dr. Bhavana Iniyan walked past Sim’s Park and, found to her dismay, that day-trippers had littered the place with disposable cups, plates, paper and other stuff. She posted pictures on the Facebook page stating that she was planning to clean up the area. Her husband, Dr. Iniyan, Parameswaran Rangayan, the president of the Merchants Association, Samantha Iyanna, a travel agent, and other well-meaning citizens joined her in the Clean Coonoor Campaign.

The group got larger and they began to clean up even areas frequented only by locals. They also got a couple of schools involved. Plastic seemed to have embedded itself into hedgerows and plants. They painted dirty walls, cut back overhangings and also fenced public spaces where the fencing had broken down. The group meets every week. “We are making a small difference and that is encouraging. The government officials, the chairman, commissioner and sanitary inspectors have been extremely forthcoming and that is a big step,” says Samantha Iyanna.

Parameswaran Rangayan says, “Together with the merchants, efficient methods of disposing garbage and cleaning the stream that flows by the side of the market are being taken up as top priority.”

This cleaning has even pervaded the elite confines of the Coonoor Club. The club’s secretary, staff and few members had embarked on a clean-up of the Raleigh Dam. In a recent clean-up, a Bangalore-based Bullet Club joined with Clean Coonoor to clean a small park in the centre of the town.

Gaining more mileage as the days go by, there is hope that these little towns may once again regain their former glory.


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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 1:43:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/two-campaigns-one-in-ooty-and-the-other-in-coonoor-have-motivated-people-to-keep-their-surroundings-clean/article6842316.ece

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