Sikkim's consistency in 'Green Sikkim' image result of far-sighted waste management policies

Sikkim's consistency in 'Green Sikkim' image result of far-sighted waste management policies
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Sikkim, a small Himalayan state is a popular tourist hotspot in the Indian union and is a go-to destination for travel enthusiasts across India and abroad. Cleanliness and sanitization play a key role in making the state a popular tourist attraction, apart from the scenic locales. “Keep Sikkim green and clean” hoardings are scattered all over the state, onto the side of roads along with dustbins installed ally to encourage people to dispose of their waste properly. 

All of this and more has helped to create Sikkim’s ‘green and clean’ image, with the Union government going so far as to award it for the same. In 2008, Sikkim was awarded the Nirmal Rajya award for sanitization and cleanliness and in 2016 Sikkim was declared the cleanest state in the country, wherein all the four districts of the state was ranked among the top ten cleanest districts in the country. The survey was conducted by the national sample survey office (NSSO), wherein 3,788 villages across India was surveyed.

Most recently on 5th December 2020 Sikkim won the Best Performing Small State in Cleanliness award by India Today.

Despite the awards and recognition, cleanliness has always been a priority for the state. 10 years before the Swach Bharat Abhiyan was launched by the Centre, in 2003 the Sikkim government launched its total sanitization campaign for the state. Toilets were built with a total of 95,043 households benefitting from the campaign, among which 61,493 toilets were built for Below Poverty Line (BPL) household. Additionally, 17,72 schools were also covered in this scheme. 

Likewise, sanitary pad vending machines were set up in government schools with awareness programmes on menstruation being rolled out regularly. 

It doesn’t come as a surprise that this has proved fruitful in a time when sanitization and hygiene is key to preventing the dreaded COVID-19. Sikkim owes thanks to the dedicated sanitization workers. 

Hem Kumar Chettri, the Commissioner in charge of Gangtok Municipal Corporation (GMC) says, “Cleanliness for us is an everyday job and we are doing, it’s our duty for the state and award or no award we will keep working for keeping Sikkim clean.”

GMC controls and collects garbage from all over the capital, which ends up at the landfill site at 32nd Mile. The waste collection begins early in the morning, with trucks journeying to different areas across Gangtok where the GMC workers pick up the garbage left out and once everything has been rounded up, the waste is taken to Martam landfill. 

The workers then segregate the trash, keeping aside plastic and metal for recycling. Kitchen waste or biodegradable waste, which is suitable for making manure, is kept separately and the rest is dumped in the open landfill. 

Jivan, a labour contractor working in the Martam landfill explains that the plastic and metals segregated is taken to Siliguri for recycling and the manure which is processed is taken by the forest department for plantation.

“The segregation part is the most difficult one, as it takes lots of time and effort. However the problem can be tackled if the people at home segregate the garbage themselves”, says Jivan.  

Martam landfill was created in 2016 for waste collection from the East district. 11 department workers including over 30 workers, including rag-pickers under private garbage contractors, currently work on-site.

It’s a well-established fact that festering garbage poses various health risks. Regarding the health-related issues that stem from improper handling and disposal of trash, Hem Kumar Chettri states that the GMC takes all safety measures to reduce the risk.

“To prevent the smell of the garbage we spray chemicals so that the fusty smell can be removed from the air, and regarding the health concerns of the workers who are directly exposed with the garbage regular health checkups are done including the independent ragpickers”, says Chettri. “The health of local people who live there (near the landfill) are also taken care of by doing routine sanitization of the houses”.

In the village level where municipal corporations are not flown, the people themselves take a strong initiative to deal with daily waste. Wet or biodegradable waste is turned into compost for farming while non-biodegradables are collected by independent rag pickers and sold in form of scab to local contractors.

The village of Thanka in East Sikkim has taken an impressive initiative towards keeping their community clean. In 2016, a local NGO called Kanchendzonga Youth Club, Martam started a programme called ‘House of the Month’ in which households with organic farming were allowed to participate 

K.T Machongpa, a member of the NGO explains that they decided to keep organic farming as a criterion so that biodegrade waste generated from households can be used in the field to grow organic vegetables and fruits.

At every end of the month, a programme is organized where the Block Divisional Officer (BDO) is invited to inspect the houses of the participants. One household wins the title of ‘House of the Month’ with prize money and gift hampers. 

Machongpa states, “The motive behind the Imitative was to keep our village clean and live a healthy and clean life. At first, only 23 houses participated but the numbers were gradually increased. However, due to a financial crisis of our NGO, we organize the event just biannually”.

“We have also installed bamboo dustbins at streets road and every ally of our village, and we educate people especially children and make them throw every kind of waste in the dustbin only,” he added.

“Our effort was finally recognized when Satpal Maharaj the Tourism Minister of Uttarakhand  graced his visit to our village in the year 2018 and declared our village as the cleanest village in the state.”

Thanka village has already set an example among the people of the state proving that cleanliness can be done at an individual level and that it’s the responsibility of the general public to maintain cleanliness and live a healthy life.

“The municipal corporation is just a medium, we just collect waste and dispose of it. The sense of belonging should come from the public so that we all can work collectively and keep our state clean”, says Chettri. 

By Sherab Palden Bhutia. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at paldenborges015@gmail.com.

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