INDIA. Assam: Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya recently observed a successful plastic-free Ambubachi festival around the temple premises. The Ambubachi festival was held at full capacity after two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This incredible achievement was possible because of an ambitious effort by the Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya to become a plastic-free heritage site in years to come.
Millions of devotees visit the Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya located in the heart of Nilachala Hill within the city of Guwahati, Assam, in North East India throughout the year to offer prayer and pay obeisance to Goddess. This leads to a challenge for the Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya management board on how to dispose of the waste generated by the visitors in addition to the large amount of solid waste generated by the people who reside nearby and keep the entire campus a plastic-free and zero waste zone with minimal cost.
A five-point action plan
In 2016, a five-point action plan was adopted by the Kamakhya Devalaya Management Board along with the Department of Tourism (DoT) and Guwahati Municipal Corporation(GMC) to improve the levels of cleanliness in the Kamakhya Temple and its surroundings up to a level that makes it a model Swachh Tourist Destination by adopting 100% clean and green technology, 100% coverage of sewerage lines, Solid and Liquid waste management and most importantly public education to ensure complete stoppage of littering by local hillside residents.
Soon, with the Mission Clean Green Assam initiative in mind, Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya Authority, Guwahati, Assam signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a leading environmental research organization called Voice of Environment (VOE) and Sahayata Co-education & Rehabilitation Society (SCERS), on December 22, 2016 to make the Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya an eco-friendly, plastic-free heritage site.
VOE’s mass sensitization towards the plastic-free zone
VOE, with inspiration from Moharana Choudhury, organized its first awareness camp on January 1, 2017, at the Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya, in the presence of the priests, the local vendors and Hon’ble Mayor Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) who pledged to make the Devalaya a plastic and polythene-bag-free zone.
VOE team members distributed Pledge Leaflets among the devotees, vendors and priests. Prasad in the plastic packet was taken up with the vendors, and alternatives like bamboo case were explored with them, but somehow, the alternate option didn’t go well with the vendors, who were quite sceptical about the economic implication of the same.
Subsequently, in 2018 and 2019, members from the temple authority and the local vendors regularly participated in mass sensitization and awareness programs organized by the VoE to create a collaborative mechanism that will encourage every stakeholder to maintain cleanliness and cooperate with the authorities on waste disposal systems available at the shri shri kamakhya devalaya premises.
The sensitization that bagged accolades
The continuous process of sensitization and action on the ground brought early accolades to the temple. The Maa Kamakhya Devalaya received the second runner-up award in the Swachh Iconic Places category in Phase I under the Swachh Bharat Mission initiative during the Swachh Mahotsav 2019. The Union Minister of Jal Shakti, Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, handed over the award to the “Doloi” of the Maa Kamakhya Devalaya, Shri Mohit Chandra Sarma. The function was attended by Hon’ble President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind and a host of other dignitaries.
Under the “Swaach Kamakhya Mission”, the waste generated from the offerings, such as flowers, leaves, fruits, etc., are now treated in the compost plant installed near the temple premises. About 84% of total waste generated goes to dumping sites, and the remaining 16% is recycled in the Organic Waste Converter (OWC) plant set up by Coal India Limited, Kolkata, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity along with Art of Living in the year 2016.
The waste generated other than biodegradable is collected and transported into the dumping ground of Guwahati Municipal Corporation, and the whole area of Kamakhya temple has been made dustbin-free now.
The Voice of Environment, under the leadership of environmentalist Moharana Choudhury and his dedicated team of environment champions, putting in extensive effort with collective support from Shri Shri Kamakhya Devalaya, its priests, local vendors and devotees to make the Kamakhya Devalaya and its surroundings an eco-friendly plastic free zone.