MAHARASHTRA: The small sleepy town of Karjat along the Mumbai-Pune railway line,now has a new tourist attraction — the town’s garbage dumping yard! And the man behind the unique idea is a lanky Ramdas Kokre, once the chief officer of the Karjat Municipal Council and a virtual magician. As he talks sitting on a small lawn besides the dumping ground with heaps of trash a few metres away, the common impression of a city dumping yard with toxic stink, rag pickers trying to pick reusable goods and predatory birds hovering above are all missing.
Working magic with waste
Segregation of waste at source was the formula Ramdas Kokre used to work magic with the landscape and bring life to huge areas consciously made waste. “We worked to identify 36 categories of waste-some of which can be reused to generate wealth and revenue. Today, people segregate waste at their homes and hand it over to municipal workers at periodic intervals. It earns a mimimum of `20 lakh for the municipal kitty even as the effort creates a situation for better, cleaner and healthier city,” he says. It was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which changed Kokre’s life. He read the book even as he was pursuing his master’s degree in agriculture. That was a decade ago. He became more aware about the immediate surroundings and chose waste disposal as his field of action. Soon, he got a chance to implement his ideas when as a class one officer of Maharashtra government he was posted to Dapoli town in Ratnagiri district in 2010.
Gardens boosts tourism
He immediately went about his task with alacrity, imposing a ban on plastic. The town got used to his system even as Kokre has moved on. Interestingly, last year when the state government imposed a plastic ban, it borrowed the code drafted by Kokre in 2010 when there was no legislation to restrict use of plastic. He recalls that by 2015 he had moved to Vengurle town in Sindhudurga district. “By that time, I had carried out several experiments in municipal waste disposal and decided to make the coastal town free of garbage to encourage tourism.
Today it has a beautiful garden at the very place where there was a stinking disposal yard and has been visited by over three lakh people till date,” Kokre said. As he says, “A dumping ground is the digestive system of the city and hence people need to ensure that it doesn’t breakdown due to overfeeding. Segregating waste after collecting it at one place is against nature and hence we focused on creating awareness about the waste that we generate every day.” He noted too that over simplification of dry and wet waste concepts also tends to create confusion. Hence, Kokre set about enunciating categories in which they could be segregated- glass, cloth, footwear, cardboards, papers, plastic, bottles etc. and fixed a timetable of when these items would be collected by the city’s waste disposal system.
“It was due to people’s involvement in devising the system that its implementation became easy and brought huge success,” Kokre said while explaining his experiment. “I never required any special permission to do any of the things I did. I always felt that there is a mandate for everything if your intentions are good,” he said, while replying to question on whether he faced any opposition as a government servant.
Kokre currently handles additional charge of neighbouring town of Neral and also the hill station of Matheran. “The daily collection and use of biowaste is today enough to generate enough gas and electricity to light the street lights of these three towns,” says Kokre who knows the prices for every category of segregated garbage sold on his tongue tips. He, however, believes, it would need more recyclers as communities create more waste at a speed greater than can be recycled.
The Maharashtra government has taken note of this wonder man’s work. Kokre and the municipal councils he has worked with have won awards and adulation. Kokre also represents the government at seminars and symposia on the topic and is a regular speaker at the state administrative training institute YASHADA. But what satisfies him most is that at least 30 municipal councils are currently studying his methods and ways to bring in change to transform the cities.