The coveted Diana Awards were given away at a virtual ceremony yesterday. Over 100 young people (ages: 9-25) across the globe received this award for their humanitarian work.
Established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1999 by a board chaired by former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the award is supported by her sons, The Duke of Cambridge and The Duke of Sussex.
One of the recipients this year is Devanshi Ranjan, 21, a final-year student of LSR College, New Delhi, who won the award for advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and empowering young changemakers.
Associated with Ladli Foundation, an NGO, Ranjan has taught over 1,000 slum children across New Delhi ever since Covid hit. She has also helped with distributing books, stationery and other resource material.
The other three recipients, also from Delhi-NCR Seher Taneja, Aditya Mukarji and Aditya Dubey — strongly believe that small lifestyle changes when adopted by all go a long way to make the Earth sustainable, and tell us more about their initiatives.
Aditya Mukarji, 17, Shri Ram School Aravali, Gurugram
Mukarji bagged the award for the campaign he started in 2018 against single-use plastic, Refuse If You Cannot Reuse. It all started when his mentor Bharati Chaturvedi (Founder, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group) spoke about the harms of plastic.
The scary facts about plastic jolted the then 14-year-old to do something about it.
“I chose plastic straws as my first target and in March 2018, I visited hotels, restaurants, clubs and cinemas all bulk users/intermediary suppliers of single-use plastics — impressing them against the use of straws,” he says.
A month later, he expanded to include stirrers, cutlery, cups, bottles, packaging offered by the hospitality sector.
“I don’t just tell them the harms of plastic but also give them eco-friendly alternatives,” says Mukarji.
In June 2018, he spearheaded a campaign with NDMC-Chintan to get all restaurants at Khan Market to give up single-use plastics, and managed to convince nearly 80 per cent of them.
“Today, nearly 95 per cent of the establishments here stand converted. The new joints too have started without these single-use plastics,” he says, adding that over 26 million plastic straws and a few million other single-use plastics have been removed so far from the hospitality sector.
In June 2019, Mukarji interned with UNDP India, in their plastic waste management programme to encourage the bulk generators of plastic waste to reduce and segregate the waste by adopting responsible recycling. He managed to secure agreements for having over 33 tonnes of plastic waste recycled.
In July 2020, he started a campaign Forests of Hope, an urban forestry initiative to grow 195 native/fruit trees for the children and youth of the 195 nations as a message of hope for tomorrow.
“Over 40 such forests have been developed across the globe, and more will be done in the coming months,” says Mukarji, adding that he wants to enter the Public Policy domain to bring about necessary changes.
Seher Taneja, 16, Springdales School, Dhaula Kaun
Janakpuri resident Seher Taneja got recognised for her two social welfare programmes, The Tale of Humankind and Abhigyata — Be A Rainbow in Someone’s Life. The Class 12 student started Abhigyata in 2018 after learning about organ donation from her mother, Dr Deepali Taneja.
“When my mother said she would donate her eyes, I was initially shocked. But doing a little research educated me on the myths and taboos associated with organ donation.”
Taneja then decided to spread awareness about it among high school students as “they can be the best changemakers”.
“We hold webinars to equip young students with knowledge to initiate a family discussion on this forbidden topic and change their thought process,” she adds.
So far, Abhigyata has reached out to over 6,000 people across India.
For her work, Taneja was felicitated with a Certificate of Appreciation in 2018 and the Student Leadership Award 2020 by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, Delhi State.
The Tale of Humankind (TOH) was started in April 2020 with an aim to engage, empower and inspire young students to dull the impact of pandemic.
It has worked on 10 campaigns concerning issues such as mental health, menstruation, gender equality, human rights, child rights, climate action, and education in Covid, among others.
“The TOH is a 2500+ strong community with a collective reach of over one lakh on social media,” says Taneja, who wants to enter the health-tech sector professionally.
“Both my parents and grandparents are doctors. I don’t want to be one, but I want to use technology to make healthcare more accessible and effective.”
Taneja has already developed gloves that can help speech and hearing-impaired have real-time conversation, and has applied for its patent.
“The gloves convert the sign language into written text and speech on a mobile app. It will be of great use, especially for working professionals who find it challenging to talk to customers,” she says.
Aditya Dubey, 18, Modern School Barakhamba Road
This Noida resident was recognised for his various environment campaigns such Plant a Million Trees, Save River Yamuna and No Car Sundays.
Started in 2016, his Plant A Million Trees Initiative has planted around two lakh trees in Delhi and Noida.
“I had developed sinus owing to the excessive air pollution, which prompted me to take up this initiative,” he says.
Later, Dubey petitioned before the Supreme Court over excessive air pollution which led to the enactment of the Commission for Management of Air Quality in Delhi Ordinance, 2020.
Dubey also filed a PIL at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), seeking directions for Amazon and Flipkart to stop using single-use plastic materials as it is in violation of Rule 9 of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
“Simultaneously, I also launched a campaign against PET bottling companies Pepsico, Coca Cola, Bisleri, Parle Agro, Himalyan, IRCTC, etc., as plastic water bottles constitute a major part of the plastic waste that chokes landfills. Failing to impress upon the companies, I again approached the NGT,” he says.
In both the cases, the NGT (vide order dated 10-9-2020) directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to conduct an environmental audit of the companies and also to recover compensation for non-compliance with the applicable Rules.
The CPCB has now through a status report assured the NGT that it will initiate coercive action against all plastic using companies around the country, in addition to the companies taken to Court by us, if they are not complying with the PWM Rules, 2016.
In the lockdown, Dubey created Prithvi, a Caregiver Robot, which permits communication and supply of food, medicine and other basic need items to the patients while maintaining social distance thus protecting doctors and caregivers.
“The movement is controlled through a mobile app and it has video conferencing capability,” says Dubey, who wants to enter the environment-tech field so that he can use technology to resolve environmental issues.