Sabarimala | Stricter norms, including fine on use of plastic items, are in store for pilgrims to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in Kerala, as the state government has intensified its campaign to tackle the mounting pollution and waste generated by the lakhs of devotees who throng the holy site every year.
The district administration of Pathanamthitta, where the shrine is located, has launched the Mission Green Sabarimala project this year to carry out focused awareness drives and plastic collection exercises. This is a precursor to tougher controls including a complete ban on bringing plastics and fines over the next two years, according to officials.
Sabarimala, located within the protected Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghats on the banks of the river Pampa, attracts lakhs of devotees from across the country during the two-month long annual pilgrimage season starting mid-November. The shrine’s growing popularity, leading to greater human activity in the forested area, has led to problems like water and land pollution, waste management issues and damage to wildlife.
Authorities hope that these can be greatly mitigated if pilgrims become more environment-conscious and responsible. We are requesting Sabarimala devotees to not bring plastic bags, packets, bottles and containers with them and desist from discarding waste indiscriminately, Pathanamthitta District Collector S Harikishore said.
While it is understandable that people who travel for days, from other states for example, need to carry and store things, they can use alternatives such as bags made of cloth or other biodegradable materials, reusable containers and bottles, he said in a release here. Reducing the use of plastics is at the core of Mission Green Sabarimala project’s awareness campaign. Our larger aim is to make Sabarimala completely plastic free.
We are hoping to have an effective alternative system in place before we impose a total ban so the visitors are not inconvenienced, he said. Volunteers from local schools, the women’s self-help group Kudumbashree, the Kerala Forest Department, the state’s sanitation agency the Shuchitwa Mission, and the Travancore Devaswom Board, which administers the temple, are assisting in the implementation of the project.
Under the mission, an additional 250 bins have been installed along the trekking route to collect garbage while around 30 ‘eco-guards’ posted along the Pampa and in resting areas for clean-up operations and to remind pilgrims that dumping clothes and waste in the river is punishable.
The recent practice of devotees discarding clothes in the Pampa has become a serious environmental issue due to the sheer numbers of pilgrims and volume of clothes that needs to be dredged out to keep the river clean, officials said. The Devaswom Board and private partners in the project have set up plastic exchange counters where pilgrims can deposit their plastic waste in exchange for cloth bags.
There are hoardings, notices and signages along the pilgrim route and campaign volunteers have been distributing pamphlets to inform devotees about the new measures and recommending alternatives to plastic. The awareness drive has been intensified through the media, social networks and a dedicated website http://www.missiongreensabarimala.com set up to provide information and seek public participation in the project.
In a bid to reduce the use of plastic bottles, work is on for a Reverse Osmosis plant at the base of the trekking route to provide safe and clean drinking water and install around 50 kiosks providing drinking water along the route. An estimated two million PET bottles are sold along the trekking path every year.
The Kerala High Court has already ordered for the strict implementation from February 1, the blanket ban on sale and stocking of plastic containers, plastic covers, polyethylene bags, and other plastic materials in and around the shrine.
Our earnest request to the devotees is that in keeping with the spirit of the pilgrimage, they contribute their share in maintaining the purity of the holy site and help protect the forests and wildlife in Sabarimala, Harikishore added.
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