In the Himalayan rural landscapes, waste mismanagement was a pressing issue that often remained unnoticed by many. Unlike urban areas where towering heaps of garbage are a common sight, waste in these remote regions was mostly concealed from view. It was either carelessly discarded into rivers, thrown into deep gorges, or burned, exacerbating an environmental crisis. The challenges of waste management in rural Himalayan areas were compounded by factors such as a lack of collection infrastructure, adverse climatic conditions, and the limited willingness of stakeholders to work in these challenging terrains.
Partnership for Change: HDFC Parivartan and Waste Warriors
Amidst these daunting challenges, a ray of hope emerged through our partnership between HDFC Parivartan and Waste Warriors. We, as Waste Warriors, took on the responsibility of waste management in six Panchayats – Baghni, Rakkar, Tang Narwana, Soukni Da Kot, Narwana Khas, and Barwala, all situated in the rural areas of Dharamshala. These Panchayats encompassed 4,033 units, comprising households, businesses, and schools, collectively generating an estimated 3,000 kilograms of waste per week.
Efficient Waste Collection and Segregation
We took on the task of collecting waste from these Panchayats and transporting it to our Waste Bank, a facility we had constructed with support from HDFC Parivartan. Here, we diligently ensured that the collected waste was properly segregated before sending it ahead for recycling, leaving no waste to be thrown away or burnt. As of September 2023, an astounding 159,077 kilograms of dry waste from Dharamshala Rural had been diverted from landfills and incineration. These numbers are truly impressive, but the journey to achieve them was marked by numerous challenges and significant efforts.
Building Partnerships with Panchayats: The Swachhta Samiti
Recognizing the vital role of community involvement in waste management, we took the crucial step of establishing the “Swachhta Samiti” (Cleanliness Committee) in each Panchayat. These committees played a pivotal role in obtaining necessary approvals for waste management initiatives, including user fees, waste banks, and bank accounts within the Panchayats.
Building Trust Through Action
To gain the trust of initially skeptical communities, we went beyond mere promises and initiated practical actions. We conducted extensive awareness campaigns, clean up drives, installed informative signboards in all the Panchayats, and actively engaged residents in various waste management activities. Over time, trust began to grow, with approximately 50-60% of the population participating both financially and actively in waste management. In addition, it’s worth noting that initially, waste collected was often mixed. However, after multiple reminders and diligent efforts in raising awareness, we have successfully transitioned to receiving segregated waste to a large extent.
Scaling Up: From Pilot to Wider Implementation
The success of the pilot project in Baghni Panchayat inspired us to expand our reach. We initiated operations in multiple Panchayats, demonstrating the effectiveness and sustainability of our work. Unique codes were assigned to each Panchayat, fostering a sense of community and encouraging active participation in waste collection and disposal.
Vinay, who is leading this project, emphasized, “We acted as a guiding light for Waste Management, not only for Baghni but also for other Panchayats. We made it clear that while we are initiating this effort, the ultimate responsibility will rest with the Panchayats to carry it forward. I’m pleased to say they agreed wholeheartedly to this approach.”
Challenges and Adaptations
Community involvement presented a notable challenge. To address this issue, we approached a local women’s group known as Adarsh Mahila Mandal. While not all members were fully committed, a few dedicated women from the group supported our efforts. Challenges were encountered across all the Panchayats, including initial reluctance to engage in waste management efforts, difficulty collecting user fees from residents, and a shortage of willing participants for the project.
To overcome the challenges of collecting user fees and motivating the Swachhata Samiti, we innovatively hired individuals from nearby villages to collect user fees, ensuring the continuity of waste collection and user fee collection. This innovative solution yielded positive results and made waste management sustainable.
Community Involvement and Gratitude
On October 3, 2023, the Panchayat-led waste collection process was successfully initiated with the collection of waste from the final remaining Panchayat, Barwala. We ensured the active involvement of the community in this important endeavor. Sarita Devi, the Pradhan of Tang Narwana, expressed her gratitude, saying, “I would like to thank HDFC and the Waste Warriors team for motivating us and working towards this for quite some time now. Now, we have taken the responsibility to carry forward the collection of waste from the units, and our only aim is to keep our Panchayat and surroundings clean.”
The partnership between Waste Warriors and HDFC Parivartan exemplifies how dedicated efforts, community involvement, and innovative solutions can transform waste management in Himalayan rural communities. While we admire the pristine beauty of the Himalayas, let us also celebrate the unsung heroes working tirelessly to preserve it.