Tamil Nadu

Efforts to usher in behavioural change yield plastic-free results

Come ‘Aadi!’ There is frenzy all around, shops sport festive look and business gets very brisk in the Alangulam area as people from most of the villages around this small town gear up for their annual pilgrimage to Sorimuthu Ayyanar Temple for the ‘Aadi Amaavaasai’ celebrations. It is also the time for conservationists and nature lovers to briskly workout strategies to reduce the impact caused by the huge gathering inside the Kalakkad – Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve during the festival at the temple inside the sanctuary.

The shrine situated inside the KMTR attracts over a lakh people every year during the ‘Aadi Amaavaasai’ celebrations and naturally the pressure exerted by this huge gathering on the forest during their stay inside the jungle is enormous and irreparable. The forest department, the custodian of this region, imposes a few restrictions to minimise the damage caused to the forest, more importantly to the Tamirabharani, the lifeline of the southern districts.

The forest department recently organized the stakeholders’ meeting, which had representatives from various government departments, temple administration and a few NGOs.

As part of the strategies chalked out in the meeting, Bangalore-based ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment), along with the forest department tried out something to inculcate a behavioural change in the pilgrims. Based on their earlier survey, Kaalaththimadam was identified as the model village because there is usually an exodus of 90 per cent of the households to the festival.

ATREE started their camp during the second week of July and initiated a door-to-door survey to work out a list of total number of households leaving for the festival and the exact dates. During these visits by the trained volunteers, suggestions were given for packing camping rations and gears in degradable papers or cardboards.

The households that were to leave for the temple were checked for plastic materials once in the previous evening and before the villagers boarded the van.

“Generally a positive attitude of the pilgrims was observed. They salvaged all their old cloth bags and pet bottles and transferred the rations to them while discarding the plastic wrappings. The vans received a sticker indicating that ‘It’s plastic free’ and there was no more checking on the way,” said Soubadra Devy, Fellow, Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE, who was part of the campaign at Kaalaththimadam.

Forest department’s random check on the site also indicated that the campaign was fruitful. Are the shrine’s surroundings plastic-free enough? A woman beedi-roller, who has completed 12th standard, from this village said: “It is dirty all around and I hate going there but I am unable to express this to my in-laws.” She meant the open defecation by the huge crowd along the Tamirabharani.

Her friend quipped: “Our next generation may not go there to stay there amidst such nauseating conditions.”

ATREE has now entered the 7th year of engagement to reduce impact of the gathering on the KMTR. Dr. Soubadra Devy says: “Tamirabharani cannot wait for the next generation considering it is the lifeline of three southern districts and also the unique forests from which it flows out. Model village such as Kaalaththimadam is not enough. District administration has a larger role to play, forge its strategies and reduce its impact by engaging with multiple stakeholders including voluntary groups. Conservation of KMTR and the larger Agasthyamalai landscape is critical for the well being of the people of this district.”

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 9:46:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Efforts-to-usher-in-behavioural-change-yield-plastic-free-results/article14516583.ece

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