Nothing plastic about this village Pradhan’s mission

Young woman gram pradhan rids her village of 75% plastic use through awareness classes and also fines, if needed, writes Namita Bajpai.
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

UTTAR PRADESH: The 29-year-old gram pradhan (village head) of Rajpur village in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh is far from traditional village heads in this northern part of the country. In fact, the village head defies many a notion held about village heads. Rajasthan-born and Delhi-bred Priyanka Tiwari, 29, a Mass Communication graduate, has set an example by bringing about a holistic change in the village and in the psyche of villagers towards environmental conservation after donning the mantle of gram pradhan in 2021.

Born in Jodhpur of Rajasthan to an army man, Priyanka came to Rajpur village after marriage in 2019. Hardly accustomed to village life, lack of amenities, mounds of garbage, dilapidated roads, open and blocked drains, and improper waste management used to unnerve her during her visits to Rajpur from Delhi where her husband runs a business. Her every visit would force her to think of making the village life better through a correction in functionalities.

As a village head, she had her agenda fixed. She took up the task of ridding the village of plastic. “It was not possible to stop plastic use in a day. I was sure that it would be a long process,” said Priyanka. In order to effectively implement her plan, Priyanka primarily got cloth bags distributed among shopkeepers, roadside vendors, and houses. Secondly, her panchayat decided to impose a fine of `500 for first-time violators of the ban on plastic, `1,000 for second-time flouters and repeating for the third time, the licence of the violating shop would be cancelled.

Simultaneously, awareness classes about the damage caused by plastic were also conducted. While her plan was to generate awareness and fear among people about the hazards posed by plastic in our daily lives, she realised that children usually are one of the most insistent spreaders of plastic litter in the form of snack packets and chocolate wrappers. She thought of a novel idea to lure them to stop doing so.

“They were encouraged to collect it and earn `2 per kg. Also, awareness classes were held in schools. Villagers were made aware through films and other forms of digital messaging. Consequently, 70-75 per cent of the plastic usage was decreased in the village,” says Priyanka, while sharing her modus operandi.
The village head hopes to cut down the usage of plastic, which is one of the biggest environmental hazards, to 95 per cent in the next two years.

Priyanka coined the idea of ‘plastic banks’ that were installed at 10 places across the village to collect the waste. Even the adjoining villages also started following the same pattern. Then, inspired by Priyanka, the UP government introduced a plastic collection centre at the block level. “The plastic waste collected at plastic banks is taken to the collection centre where it is converted into granules. These granules are given to the PWD and gram panchayats for use in road construction as these granules make at least 10 per cent part of the material used for laying the roads,” said Priyanka.

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