The Kerala State government has formulated Haritha Keralam Mission with the slogan – Pachayiloode Vrithiyilekku (Clean Through Green) aimed at creating a new Kerala. It is an effort to deal with some of the contemporary challenges the State is facing. The problem of solid and biodegradable waste has become grave to the extent of posing a major threat to the State. The rivers, streams and ponds which used to be abundant in water seems to be crying for water to quench their thirst. Contamination of water sources poses a big threat of the spread of infectious diseases.
Unplanned and haphazard construction activities, exploitation of nature have adversely affected living conditions. Along with toxic vegetables around, the picture of the challenges faced by environment in the State becomes clear. We will not be able to move forward on the path of development without addressing these challenges.
Since these issues are complex there is a need for a comprehensive evaluation of the present situation. The solutions will have to be worked out prioritising the problems. Local level plans are needed to implement the solutions with people’s participation. Haritha Keralam has been envisaged by the State government with the objective of carrying out this humungous task.
The governing body of Haritha Keralam has the Chief minister as the chairman, Ministers of departments concerned as co-chairpersons, vice chairman, Chief secretary and principal secretaries of the departments concerned as members of governing body. District mission will be headed by district panchayat president and comprise MLAs, MPs, local body presidents and grama and block panchayat presidents. In grama panchayat and municipalities the respective presidents will head the mission. Collectors will be district secretaries of district mission. Local bodies secretaries and officials concerned will be members of local bodies mission.
The Haritha Keralam Mission will specially focus and coordinate activities pertaining to cleanliness, agriculture development, irrigation, conservation of forest wealth and animal husbandry development. Haritha Keralam mission activities will be guided by the outlook of protecting and conserving State’s environment. With general objective for each sector, the programmes will have to be carried out as per the requirements of specific areas. These objectives will be attained with the help of the local administration, evaluating the problems existing in different fields and coordinating the activities of various Government departments to ensure local bodies, research centres, NGOs, provide the technical expertise, encourage innovative activities, develop new interventions and provide all the help.
The responsibilities of the Mission
The Mission will ensure valuable participation of those who contributed significantly towards Suchitwa Mission, agriculture and irrigation sectors, environment conservation, and experts from various fields. Hygiene is part of Malayalis culture and is considered as one of the important qualities of our people. But this culture is not visible when it comes to keeping our surroundings clean. Had it been the other way round, people would not have thrown garbage outside their houses.
The serious garbage problem that we are witnessing today is also the result of rapid urbanisation that is taking place in the State. According to census, only 16 per cent of the land in Kerala forms the urban sector.
However, 50 percent of State’s population resides in these urban areas. Most of the towns and urban centres have turned into waste baskets because of plastic waste, e-waste, waste generation from construction sector and the absence of effective waste treatment plants. The health problems being caused by waste dumps have now triggered a big debate among the people and this is a positive sign. While many plans are being implemented at the local level for waste treatment and management, there is an urgent need to find a solution on a wider scale.
About 70 per cent of the waste generated during our day to day lives, comprise of food waste including vegetables, fish, meat waste and market waste. These are thrown out on the roads, backyards of hotels resulting in the increase of rat population and stray dogs. Effective methods need to be developed by coordinating the activities of the local bodies, Suchitwa Mission and NGOs to find a solution to the practice of burying and burning of plastic and toxic waste which is causing serious air pollution and soil pollution. Waste management and treatment plans will have to be worked out through such efforts.
The Mission will provide the required back up for planning and executing newer and safer models of waste management.
The water prosperity that Kerala boasted of because of 44 rivers, 50,000 ponds, 60,000 wells, lakes and innumerable streams is fast becoming a thing of the past. Many of these water sources are facing destruction or serious environmental problems. Over use of water, over exploitation of ground water, destruction of forests, unscientific utilization of land, dumping of waste in water sources and sand mining taking place in river beds are resulting in complete destruction of water sources.
Our water sources depend mainly on rainfall. However, severe climatic changes are causing serious concern. This year there was a deficit of 34 percent rainfall during south west monsoon and 69 per cent in north west which also reminds of the severe summer season ahead. We can face drought like situations only if we conserve each drop of rain water.
The Mission will take steps with the help of local bodies and departments concerned to ensure conservation and protection of water sources, rainwater storage, reuse of water, recycling of used water and other alternative measures. Water shed management schemes will be linked with agriculture and water conservation plans in suitable areas.
One of the major responsibilities of the Mission is to develop agriculture sector in the state. While we always claim that the State’s climate is suitable for agricultural activities, for various reasons the society has strayed away from farming culture. Of the total land, only 53 per cent is being currently used for agriculture purpose because of various reasons including non availability of agricultural land, uncertainty over income from agriculture and inadequate marketing systems.
Only 12 per cent is being used for food crops. That’s the reason why Kerala has to depend on other States for rice, vegetables and fruits to a great extent. The present situation where one is forced to consume toxic vegetables and fruits coming from outside has to change. The local vegetable and fruit markets would go dry if lorries from across the border don’t come. It is a big relief that farmers, local bodies, political and social organizations together are making valiant efforts to overcome this humiliating situation.
The State needs to achieve more targets in food availability by sustaining these efforts, expanding agri activities in more areas. The farming area needs to be expanded by utilising barren land and fallow land for agriculture purposes. By encouraging organic farming we should be able to grow at least 50 per cent of our vegetable needs. Coordinated farming activities will have to be carried out considering the uniqueness of local areas and suitable climatic conditions. Efforts are needed to encourage farmers groups, kudumbasree group farming, farmers who are trying various crops, kitchen gardening, schools and vegetable farming being carried out by various other organisations. Such activities are already happening across the State to increase the vegetable and food production.
If each house is able to plant at least one vegetable and if such a mindset is created in the State,then it would go a long way in meeting our needs and the society would also be able to send out a clear message regarding good health. In this context one may ask when various local bodies, individuals and organisations are implementing waste management projects, water conservation and agriculture development projects then where is the need for a Mission?
Kerala has completed two decades of decentralisation system. There is no doubt that despite various limitations the local bodies have turned into local administration system in the state. However, the local bodies are still facing a major challenge in the form of lack of effective coordination between various departments and local bodies, lack of coordination between the projects and schemes prepared by the local bodies and other departments. This lack of coordination is creating huge difficulty at the lower level. Haritha Kerala Mission will address the urgent need for ensuring effective coordination in production sector and set up a permanent system for development activities. To prepare the farmers and other people engaged in the field to take up measures for facing the challenges posed by climatic changes.
Haritha Keralam Mission will seek the expertise and technical support of research institutions and experts from outside the State. Steps need to be taken to reclaim the environment and ecological balance for sustainable development. The mission will explore the possibilities and various methods to achieve this target with the help of people working in these fields and local bodies.
The biggest lesson drawn by the State from decentralisation process was the meaningful people’s participation in development activities. The Mission’s mandate is to coordinate and ensure participation of agencies from the state level to local bodies with the total cooperation of the society, to face the current development challenges. The main objective of the mission is to make waste management, water conservation and expansion of farming activities part of Malayali’s psyche.
Dr. T. N. Seema
Haritha Keralam Mission