Monday, June 1, 2009

Eco-Consciousness spreading in Delhi

One of the most difficult tasks in achieving a greener and more resource efficient life on planet Earth is changing inherent patterns or attitudes in each and everyone of us. Because it is the direct grand collective impact of our actions in regards to resource usage and consumption that will determine the future of Earth’s environment. Creating awareness and eco-consciousness is a critical first step in this. The Bhagidari of Delhi (India) Government, a citizen-government partnership initiative, has been making serious attempts at creating awareness amongst the citizens of Delhi regarding environment and pushing them towards more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

The Bhagidari (rooted in sharing and meaning partnership) was launched in December 1998 by Delhi government for citizens’ partnership in Governance. Though initially it started as a mechanism for allowing citizens and citizen bodies to voice their grievances, it has overtime it has evolved into a process with multiple stakeholder in Delhi’s governance including citizen groups, NGOs and the Government itself. It is the manner in which the Bhagidari, the partnership, is being leveraged to hone the eco-consciousness of the citizens, which is impressively striking. The school children in association with NGO’s have been spearheading the ‘Save Water’ campaign. Spreading the message and distributing pamphlets, educating people about the importance of conserving water to the numerous lanes and by-lanes of the city. And as they have canvassed through the streets of Delhi, the student volunteers also screened for simple water wastage incidents such as overflowing tanks, leaking water coolers and pleaded with the dwellers to get the leaks plugged.

Included in partnership, in Bhagidari, are the Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) from different regions of Delhi. RWAs are playing increasingly significant role in water conservation as well. In partnership with Delhi Jal (Water) Board (DJB), RWAs are getting involved in installation of Rain Water-Harvesting, replacing old water distribution pipes and de-silting of sewers. Just like the school children, RWA’s have also been instrumental in the impressing upon the citizens the need for conserving water as well as in providing simple tips for water conservation, like turning off the tap while shaving or using bucket for taking a bath instead of using a shower. Similarly under the “Save Energy” campaign, RWA’s have been helping out with finding faulty meters to avoid energy pilferage or help with replacement of low tension wires. Critically, also, educating people about benefits of using CFL bulbs instead of regular bulbs.

At the same time the Delhi government is advertising heavily to sharpen the people’s conciousness in a particular direction. Bill-boards that had always been an instrument of commercial advertising were serving as vehicles for greater social awareness. I have been wondering about the tremendous expense certain political parties must have incurred for their bill-board campaigns in recent parliamentary elections in India. But I am wondering more about the recent public awareness initiatives. On bill-boards – big or small, prominent roadside ones or tucked inside the bus-stops – Delhi government’s campaign for environment and planet’s precious resources looks valiant. I am sure it will provide much fodder to those minds that otherwise would not even have wandered in that direction: “I will not use the shower but bathe using bucket and mug” (Save Water campaign); “I will use CFLs” (Save Electricity campaign); “If I don’t use plastic bags, drains won’t get clogged and Delhi will be a cleaner city” (Save Our Environment campaign).

It is very hard to know how much of a dividend these awareness campaigns will yield and whether it will justify the outlay towards such advertising. But in a more fundamental sense, creation of awareness and change of behavior are really hard to achieve. Even limited success of these campaigns by changing inherent patterns or attitudes (in even a few people) could be a useful contribution. Hopefully these small steps will build towards a big march for improvements in our environment.

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