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Author: Stephen David
Publication: India Today
Date: February 11, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&&issueid=40&id=4111&Itemid=1&page=in&latn=2

Introduction: A plastic-free village in Karnataka is a model for all while Unicef takes a leaf out of its book

The R.K. Pachauris and Al Gores of the world can rejoice. The planet is neither going into meltdown nor is it going to be buried in plastic. Not till there are villages like Ira around. This village of 1,300 families in Bantwal taluk of Mangalore has been inspired by a revolutionary self-help movement called Apna Desh to take on leadership role and to keep it free of plastic waste.

The basic philosophy is to promote community ownership of public places like roads, street lights, drinking water facilities and schools. "The whole idea is locals managing their own affairs by working closely with the government, the people and other key agencies," say volunteers Krishna Moolya and Sheena Shetty.

The duo often brings government officials and the people together. Shetty says Ira's success story began with the implementation of the Centre's Sampoorna Swachata Andolana or the total sanitation project.

Ira's panchayat secretary Chandrashekhara Pathur says Apna Desh volunteers educated them about the negative effects of plastic. Pathur has helped build a "plastic hill" from the village waste, which will later be taken to a Bangalore recycling company that uses it to build roads.

Villagers use cloth bags and fine people for littering. The credit for the Apna Desh campaign, which is a decade old, goes to former deputy commissioner of Mangalore Bharat Lal Meena. He taught villagers to use eco-friendly cloth bags and motivated them to carry on with this outreach programme to other villages.

A Unicef team came calling to Ira recently and even took notes from the villagers, who gave a lowdown on how PVC was one of the world's largest dioxin source, that excessive use of plastics was better avoided and what were the problems of plastic waste disposal.

The village also hosted a 28-member team from a Kerala gram panchayat and teams from other districts like Gulbarga and Mysore. Visitors go back vowing to replicate the model elsewhere too. National rural development department officials have been here to study the development pattern. It helps that Ira is also totally literate.

Apna Desh has everyone pitching in: Vittala legislator Padmanabha Kottari launched Nirmala Gram Yojana in the taluk while Bantwal panchayat members dug toilet pits for free, helping Ira win Nirmal Gram Puraskar of the Centre.

A Bantwal farmer has offered 10 acre land for Apna Desh. "Anybody can replicate the concept. This is our country and we have to build it. The government is not a faceless entity. It is ordinary villagers, like in Ira or Bantwal taluk, who make it," says Meena. They are making a difference too.

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