Citizens apathy and tourist insensitivity to environment are clearly to be blamed for the spate of recent disasters.
St Mary's Island (also known as Coconut Island) in the Arabian Sea, close to Malpe beach and the Hanuman Gundi Water Falls in the Kudremukh National Park are two of the exotic tourist spots in Karnataka. One is picturesque beach/ island and other is a natural gift of the Western Ghats. These two can still be called virgin tourist spots because of considerably lower tourist flow than many other places.
Last visits to these places show that whatever be the number of tourists, they all have vandalized the places with plastic waste. It is not only ugly, but it also reflects an indifferent culture. Increasingly these exotic spots are transforming into garbage dumps and filth.
People who visit St Mary's Island wonder seeing the various types of polythene and aluminum foil packets, plastic bottles and liquor bottles spread around the beach and inside the island. Waste thrown into the sea from the shores is the main culprit as well as the visitors' dumping. After a drink on the beach, park, lake or anywhere people shamelessly and carelessly throw the empty bottle into the water or wherever possible.
St Mary's Island is a classic case of attitudes towards environmental hygiene. Besides destroying such a beautiful place, waste also affects the livelihoods of fishermen who quite often catch plastic wastes instead of fish which also destroy the net. Coral reef and breeding centres of sea life are also under severe threat due to the plastic waste.
Pilgrim places are also not spared from the littering. Around 10 -15 years ago, most of the pilgrim places in the Karnataka were known for their serene and peaceful environment. The attraction of the Kollur Mookambika Temple, then, was the crystal clear water and resonance of the nearby streams combined with the fragrance of wild flowers in the jungles around that give a unique and unexplainable tranquility.
But, during the last one decade, the water in the streams has become black and the depth has reduced. This is largely attributable to open disposal of bottles, plastic covers and waste. Presently even street florists package flowers in polythene covers. Till recently packaging used to be in banana, lotus, teak/Sal or turmeric leaves.
Tourists and vendors have turned insensitive to environmental degradation. Pilgrimage places that supposedly reflect Indian value system and culture, lack serious attention to maintain environment. Waste management, at present, is considered to be the duty of the local administrative body with hardly any role for those who generate it.
The intensity of recent disasters increased due to citizen apathy and inaction. Clear examples were the flood in Mumbai in 2005 and Chennai in 2015. If the Mithi river were allowed to follow its course without any interruption, it wouldn't have inundated the city. In Chennai, without an outlet for the excess water, the Adayar river inundated large tracts of the city. Channels intended to evacuate excess water were blocked due to illegal construction and dumping of non-degradable waste. Besides, the large quantity of non-degradable industrial waste produced worsened the crisis.
The memory Chennai flood is still fresh. Government agencies are blamed for this kind of devastation, But Chennaites can hardly evade responsibility. Insensitivity to environment and violation of norms in constructions in fragile regions clearly appear as major reasons. Bengaluru, the garden city, is on the verge of similar crisis. The story of Bellandur lake appears in mainstream media and social media. In blaming the city local authorities, residents seldom admit that household and commercial wastes are the main cause of siltation of lakes. Besides, lakes are increasingly the dump yards or used as landfills for construction waste.
In the Government’s Swatch Bharat Abhyan programme, environmental cleanliness and urban waste management are two important components. There are clear mechanisms to achieve its goals in these two components. The role of citizens to keep our environment clean and sustainable for living though still need elaboration. Along with creating awareness on the sanitation among the rural folks of the country, there is also an increased need to change the attitude of our people towards management of their own waste.
Foremost is purging conventional mindsets on disposal of waste at the specific places. Also there is an urgent need for segregation of household waste as degradable and non-degradable. This can be achieved with proper guidance and awareness and role modeling from government agencies and their staff. Otherwise, expenditure on Swatch Bharat will not deliver any desired impact. Resources for the programme are raised through a 0.5 per cent as Swatch Bharat tax.
Bengaluru city and other places in Karnataka are also as vulnerable as Chennai or Mumbai. Any natural or human made disaster means the endless suffering of people.
Social media has played a major role in rescue operations during the Chennai floods. So, it can start another serious attempt to create awareness about adverse impact of our consumer culture, frivolous attitude towards environment and waste management that destroy the beautiful environment around us.
Citizens have a responsibility to ensure that St Mary’s Island and Hanuman Gundi are as beautiful and exotic as now even after a century pate of recent disasters