In a classic example of how a joint effort can usher in change, the incessant efforts of a small group of people has ensured that the recently concluded Malayattoor pilgrimage followed the green protocol.
This effort, in association with the district Suchithwa Mission and the Forest Department, could see the drastic reduction in plastic waste.
A team of four friends, Shine Varghese, Gopu Kesavan, Biju P and Dr Manoj, a researcher in waste management, who persuaded state authorities to implement the green protocol at the National Games in 2015, are behind this step as well.
In 2015 itself, they met the priests of the Syro Malabar Church, to which the pilgrimage is associated.
â€śIn the initial period, when we first them in 2015, they were not convinced at all. In 2017, we presented a letter from K Vasuki, the former director of the State Suchitwa Mission, who was instrumental in implementing the green protocol at the National Games. The priests then began supporting the idea. What more, the church spent Rs 30 lakh to make drinking water available on top of the hill, so that plastic bottles can be avoided,â€ť Shine Varghese says.
The main season for the pilgrimage, lasting 50 days, is during Lent, the period preceding Easter, for three weeks starting from Palm Sunday.
The district administration, Suchithwa Mission and the Forest Department took steps to reduce the use of plastic. The Collector also issued an order banning disposables at the pilgrim centre.
The Kodanad Forest Research Range Officer, under whom the pilgrim centre falls, also passed an order to ban shops in the forest area. â€śThis year, shops werenâ€™t allowed to be set-up in the trekking path. Only four service centres were allowed to provide water. Earlier, forest land would be leased out to hundreds of shops, but this year permission was not given. An eco shop too was opened at the base of the trek to serve coffee and water to pilgrims to free,â€ť says Range Officer Aneesha Siddique.
Siju Thomas, Ernakulam district coordinator of Suchitwa Mission, says that programmes were held to spread awareness on why plastic should be cut down.
â€śKudumbashree workers and students of St Teresaâ€™s College, Erankulam, held sensitisation programmes among pilgrims on why they shouldnâ€™t use plastic. A token amount of Rs 10 was given to the pilgrims who took water bottles to the hill. The money was given back to those who didnâ€™t abandon their bottles at the peak,â€ť he says. â€śThe efforts in all led to the drastic reduction in the use of plastic.â€ť
The free water and food were distributed on reusable cups and plates, instead of disposable cutlery.
â€śAs per the information available from shopkeepers in the area, on an average, during the pilgrimage season, 15 lakh bottles of water, 5 lakh bottles of soft drinks, 10 to 15 tonnes of disposable plates and glasses were used in the past. But this year, the use of these materials were drastically reduced. In the former years, the plastic products were either abandoned, buried in the forest or burnt inside the forest. The disposal of the waste inside the forest might had even caused the deaths of animals," Shine Varghese says.