Concerns about the environment are nothing new to anyone of us. Every other day, someone or the other comes up with various schemes that are aimed at making the environment better. Interestingly, the worry is not about the numbers of such initiatives – there are plenty of them. However, the problem exists in the sustenance of these projects. It is easy to initiate a process that aims at making a difference in the world but to stay committed to the cause is the most difficult part.
Hailing from the valleys of Dehradun, Uttarakhand, Abhijay Negi, has managed to shape his dreams of making his hometown a cleaner, safer and better place for everyone. Abhijay has currently completed his masters in law at the University of Oxford. Speaking to The Logical Indian in an exclusive interview, Abhijay has meticulously laid down the various measures that MAD has been carrying out in Dehradun to bring about a betterment of the environment.
“MAD – that is an acronym for us,” Abhijay smiled and said, “ it is Making A Difference By Being A Difference.” “I would not call us an NGO in the truest sense of the word; we are more of a student activist group,” he explained.
MAD – How was it formed?
“While in my teens, I had the opportunity to watch a docu-feature on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and I was very moved by that,” Abhijay said. “The heart-wrenching story of the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy who still have not received their due compensation from the government compelled me to divert my attention from whatever I had at hand and focus on doing something for them,” he added.
However, Abhijay explained, that then, he was unaware of how the scenario of social service in India is. Abhijay was of the opinion that sending amenities and financial help to the Bhopal victims was the best way out. It was only later that he realised that he did not have a bank account and did not know anyone in Bhopal. This would mean that his entire effort would go in vain.
He said that although the project of helping the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims was not fruitful, the urge to do something for the society kept haunting him and that was when the seeds for MAD were sown.
“I had also gone through that phase in my life when I had wanted to open an NGO and turn that into my profession. But later I took up law for my further studies, and my training in law proved to be very helpful while working with MAD,” he explained.
“Also, I realised that forming an NGO would mean that we would be channelising our resources towards one or two specific causes. But, somehow, I was not satisfied with focussing on just one single issue – I wanted to do as much as possible for Dehradun and did not want to restrict it to one cause,” Abhijay said.
MAD was formed in 2011 primarily as a Sunday-based activity platform which aimed at providing a platform for anyone, but mostly youngsters who would be free on Sundays and would be keen to work for the society.
On being asked how he was able to garner so much support in Dehradun, Abhijay said, “Well, frankly speaking, I am myself unaware of the process. I don’t know what to tell – today; we are many hundreds, mostly teenagers, imbued with the spirit of selfless service, determined to work towards making a difference by being the difference ourselves.”
Multifarious feats achieved by MAD
“Dehradun is a beautiful city – it is picturesque and offers serenity. However, Dehradun is not the same as it used to be during the times when my grandparents were in their youth,” Abhijay sounded nostalgic as he said this.
As Doon’s oldest, most active student activist group, MAD has arranged over 500 activities about rivers’ rejuvenation, cleanliness, wall transformations and annual MADATHON. Their first cleaning drive took place on 8 June 2011, and since then the group has come a long way in their activities and has also managed to get the attention of the local people.
“There was a time when we had to face the cynicism and hostility of the neighbours. But it was only after seeing what we have achieved that many came forward and offered their heartiest congratulations,” Abhijay admitted.
A report by NIH, Roorkee confirmed Rispana to be a perennial system – a feat that was made possible by the efforts of MAD.
The Rispana, a famous river of Dehradun was losing its waters in the lower catchment area as it fades away in slums and other encroachments. The authorities have not been taking any actions The condition of the Rispana and Bindal rivers has continued to deteriorate because of encroachment, lack of proper garbage disposal in the city and also vote banks politics.
Campaigns have been taking place for bettering the conditions of the rivers from the side of the government, but they have been short-lived in nature.
“It was only because of the concerted efforts of MAD that the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee assessed the conditions of Doon rivers and came up favourable findings on the revival of streams of Dehradun valley. A sum of Rs 1 crore has been sought to start with the process of rejuvenation,” Abhijay explained.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has proceeded to earmark the Rispana and Bindal streams of the Doon valley as “falling under the Ganga basin”.
Abhijay went on to explain how MAD had contributed to reversing the cycle ban that was introduced on three and a half kilometres long Mall Road in Dehradun in 2016. “They were prohibited by the government on the pretext that bicycles were ‘creating nuisance’ on the roads. MAD had worked to bring back the cycles as they would help foster a cleaner and greener Dehradun,” he said.
Another significant achievement made by MAD is that of wall transformations. “We have taken a special interest in transforming all those old and dilapidated walls of Dehradun by giving them to a fresher look through wall murals,” Abhijay pointed out, also adding that they have transformed 25 walls. He said that wall graffitis were not just expressions of art but also that of protests against that of ‘smart cities’.
MAD has also worked to bring forth the deep-seated corruption that is present in the Indian education system. “We specifically targeted the Uttarakhand Technical University where in spite of schemes to financially help students from backwards families, it was not put to use. RTIs were filed from our part, that ended in the Institute reinstating those schemes.”
MAD has also made commendable contributions during the Nepal earthquake and also during the Srinagar and Kedarnath floods.
“We had started from scratch and have built on our resources after that. A lot of hurdles have come our way- from harmless scepticism to mockery and insult about the work we are doing. However, I can proudly say that we have been able to overcome all of that with our heads held high,” Abhijay smiled.
“Today the government authorities are taking is seriously, and the commoners appreciate our efforts. I used to coordinate with the entire team while I was in Jodhpur and even from Oxford, I try to help the team – it is tiring indeed, but the feeling of serving to people is exhilarating,” he added.
MAD has received several awards from well-known law firms like that of Herbert Smith Free Hills and that of a Mumbai-based magazine called ‘Urban Sanitation’. Abhijay said, “I must say ours is an activist group that has made their presence felt even on the policy front.”
The Logical Indian community applauds the efforts that have been taken by Abhijay and his team to bring about a difference in their hometown. Their dedication and commitment to the cause inspire awe among so many of us. In Abhijay’s own words, this is the change his team intends to bring: “Where there is reluctance, there will be resilience, where there is doubt, there will be self-confidence” – we wish them well in their endeavour.