Map My Home
Mir Mohammed Ali is an enthusiastic reformist. This 29 years old IAS Officer has in only a span of three months introduced tremendous social reforms in the district of Kannur, Kerala.
His previous project “Map My Home” initiated in Trivandrum, which was aimed to comprehensively document public areas such as schools, hospitals and governmentK facilities on the Google maps for the State of Kerala. His latest initiatives revolve around creating a sustainable waste management system to tackle the severe pollution in the district of Kannur. By involving the citizens through simple and effective methods an effort has been made to make Kannur waste disposal free and to curb the huge influx of pollutants into its rivers. Other projects have aimed to document the rich history of this district and efforts have also been made to make education accessible for children from all stratas of the society.
Read on to know more…..
01. What inspired you to initiate the Map My Home Project?
In spite of having the technology at our fingertips we do not have the information to harness it. A simple search such as the nearest government office can be frustrating since the information is sparsely present. That shouldn’t be the case. In the first phase of this project we were able to add 1,500 places on the map.
Based on the strength of the pilot, Google was interested in collaborating with us. Map My Home 2.0 was a joint effort of the Govt. of Kerala, Google and 360 college students.
There was only a small training provided to all the students after which like a chain reaction the system was set into motion. Over a period of 20 days we added another 60,000 places onto Google Maps with accurate and in-depth details. The project was highly competitive and we had students scaling the entire length of the State! The highlights of this project were, that it brought, on a single platform- the State government, citizens and a multi-national organization. This was also the first time ever that Google Maps had collaborated with a Government to bring places and people online.
An added bonus was the societal stereotypes that were broken. Basically, the assumptions that students of engineering background would have a better time scoring since they were more well versed with technology and that the all-girls colleges may have issues since it may not be safe for girls to scale remote areas of the State. However, we were surprised to see that the top six colleges consisted of two all-girls and two arts and humanities institutions.
The students ingeniously expanded their networking zone and roped in, even staff members to create an influential sphere.
02. We have heard about the waste management project that you have introduced in the Kannur district that. Tell us more about this
Kannur district has over 80% of the state’s mangroves. It was while kayaking in a river here that I noticed the insane amount of pollution and filth in its basin. The mangroves were choking from pollutants and it was obvious that the ecosystem was failing to sustain. We held meetings with multiple stakeholders in order to find the best way to tackle the issue but we realised introducing large scale investments and recycling technology was too extensive a project to be achieved in a short span of time. We hence decided to address this issue by creating an increased civic sense through a system where the people itself are involved in consciously cutting down on plastic waste.
03. What reforms did you introduce?
We are generating plastic waste every day, a lot of which we cannot avoid producing. For instance, while we can carry cloth bag instead of plastic while buying groceries we cannot avoid the milk packets. One can collect this over time and hand it over to a scrap dealer however that is not a feasible solution and requires too much effort that may not be possible in the fast paced lifestyle today.
We hence decided to introduce a couple of reforms that aimed at changing the basic perception that most Indians have, which is that one cannot strive without using plastic. On Gandhi Jayanti we held a program in which we were able to eliminate over 50,000 plastic items from the ecosystem by simply asking the supermarkets to not give out a single bag on that day.
Green Weddings – “Memories Only”
In order to tackle the river pollution which at least in Kannur is basically from the weddings and mainly from the styrofoam materials used, we decided to introduce a concept of “Green Wedding” in collaboration with our Swachh Bharat team. We created a format for an eco-friendly wedding by making simple amends such as replacing plastic cups, plates and spoons with glasses and steel items. In fact even the flowers used in the wedding decorations were insisted on being natural and the wedding board that is made from thermocol was replaced with cloth.There were over 2000 guests in the first green wedding we
There were over 2000 guests in the first green wedding we organized and by the end we only had leftover food as the waste generated. By introducing these environment-friendly techniques we had avoided adding almost 16,000 items of disposable and soiled plastic from the ecosystem. Since wedding are mass social gatherings they also serve as a great medium for propagating this idea. We have also collaborated with caterers, wedding planners and auditorium owners to make this option of a green wedding available to their clients. By introducing a certificate for having held and organized such a wedding we have provided them with an added incentive.
The same concept was introduced in educational institutions for organizing cultural programs. Here in fact, the students are themselves washing their plates instilling in the process a sense of discipline and making them more sensitive towards this cause.
From Schools to Scrap Dealers
We held meetings with scrap dealers “kabadis” from across the district to get a more nuanced understanding of this issue. And it was during this interaction that we came across another huge problem. The scrap dealers can only use dry plastic for recycling. Since most plastic waste is not produced in this form it is basically useless. To tackle this situation we joined hands with the education department which decided to hold a short training program on waste management for headmasters after which a project of collecting plastic waste through students was started. After a sizeable amount had been collected this waste would be taken away by the scrap dealer. Today we have over 700 schools as a part of this programme.
The students are encouraged to get all kinds of dry recyclable waste from their households and nearby localities. This develops a civic sense and is one of the best ways to reach out to the diverse stratas of the masses such as the parents. So if anyone now wants to be a part of this change they can simply hand over their collected dry waste to the nearest school going kid.
Hotel Owners and Discounts
Through a meeting with the hotel owner’s association we were successful in introducing, for a month, a 10% discount for all those who got their own containers to collect takeaway food instead of using the usual plastic containers given by the hotels.
04. What is the eventual goal?
We want to eventually make this system sustainable such that the government factor can be removed from this cycle. If you notice there is link based process that has been created. The schools look at this as a value-based program, parents as a practical solution to a major crisis and for the scrap dealers this is a way to make more money and it also provides a certain kind of dignity to these individuals which are from the marginalized section of the society. They are often harassed and ostracized but by increasing their output and interactions with the society we aim to sensitize citizens and break the present barriers.
05. Why not introduce a ban? Would that not be a more effective way to tackle this problem?
If you introduce a ban at a time, when the society is not prepared for it, you only complicate the situation, by running after violators. This would only overburden the executive workforce which already has defined statutory duties. So we felt it would be ideal to go for a sensitization and incentive-based campaign before taking any drastic steps towards a ban. We work with the belief that with sufficient information and alternatives in place, a ban would be rendered redundant.
06. How have citizens responded to these reforms?
People have been very enthusiastic. Support has been pouring in from all corners. We have a tea seller who used to produce almost 50 milk packets everyday. Today he collects and recycles them. A Panchayat has used 6 lakhs out of their funds to buy steel cutlery that has been given over to clusters of women based self help groups for being loaned at weddings.
A video declaration has also been made by heads of all sub-regions to make Kannur Plastic and Disposable-free by 2nd April, 2017. Alternative methods have been found for the political posters that were using non-recyclable plastic sheets for representation.
07. What other reforms have you undertaken? We’ve perused through the “Kannur Diaries” on Facebook? Could you elaborate?
Kannur is also home to a group of tribal which live on the Aralam Farm. In order to ensure that these tribal children attend school regularly we have started a monthly fun trip to the city where they visit the mall, food court, collector’s office and a tourist destination. This has also been started in the children’s home where those from abusive backgrounds reside. We have asked them to start writing diaries and taking up a hobby in the hopes of nurturing their inner self.
We have started a format similar to The Humans of New York with the aim of creating a platform to convey the rich and bountiful history of Kannur. Although this is still in its infancy we have found some amazing stories. Narrations of this quaint town from the colonial era, the story of a woman who’s husband shot a tiger when he was a police officer, a local gynaecologist who has delivered over 50,000 children to the descriptions of meeting Nehru and Martin Luther by a circus owner, the page is an insight into a vibrant history.
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