December 5th, 2016
Interviewer : Koshika Krishna
Map My Home
Mir Mohammed Ali is an enthusiastic reformist. This 29-year-old IAS Officer has introduced great social reforms in the district of Kannur, Kerala, in a span of three months.
The Logical Indian previously covered his project “Map My Home” initiated in Trivandrum. This project aimed to comprehensively document public areas such as schools, hospitals and government facilities on Google Maps for the State of Kerala.
His latest initiative revolves around creating a sustainable waste management system to tackle severe pollution in the district of Kannur. It aims to make Kannur waster-disposal free and to curb the influx of pollutants into rivers. The citizens get involved though straightforward and efficient methods.
Other projects have aimed to document the rich history of this district. Efforts have also been made to make education accessible for children from all strata of the society.
Read to know more about all these initiatives.
01. What inspired you to initiate the Map My Home Project?
In spite of having the technology at our fingertips, a simple search for the nearest government office can be frustrating since the information is sparse. That shouldn’t be the case. In the first phase of this project, we were able to add 1,500 places on the map.
Based on the strength of the pilot, Google was interested in collaborating with us. Map My Home 2.0 was a joint effort of the Govt. of Kerala, Google and 360 college students.
We gave the students a short training about the process. And over a period of 20 days, we added another 60,000 places onto Google Maps with accurate details. The project was highly competitive, and we had students scaling the entire length of the State! The highlight of this project is that it brought the State government, citizens and a multi-national organisation together on a single platform. This was also the first time that Google Maps had collaborated with a Government to bring places and people online.
A bonus was that we broke some stereotypes. The assumptions were that students of engineering background would do better and that the all-girls colleges may have issues since it may not be safe for girls to scale remote areas of the State. However, we were surprised to see that the top six colleges consisted of two all-girls and two arts and humanities institutions.
The students ingeniously expanded their networking zone and roped in staff members also to create an influential sphere.
Today, Kerala is better mapped, thanks to this unique collaboration.
02. Tell us about the Waste Management project in Kannur district
Kannur district has over 80% of the state’s mangroves. It was while kayaking in a river here that I noticed the insane amount of pollution and filth in its basin. The mangroves were choking from pollutants, and it was evident that the ecosystem was failing to sustain. We held meetings with multiple stakeholders to find the best way to tackle the issue. But we realised introducing large-scale investments, and recycling technology was too large to be achieved in a short span of time. We hence decided to address this issue by creating an increased civic sense through a system where the people itself are involved in consciously cutting down on plastic waste.
03. What reforms did you introduce?
We are generating plastic waste every day, a lot of which we cannot avoid producing. For instance, while we can carry cloth bag instead of plastic while buying groceries we cannot avoid the milk packets. One can collect this over time and hand it over to a scrap dealer however that is not a feasible solution and requires too much effort that may not be possible in the fast paced lifestyle today.
On Gandhi Jayanti, we held a program in which we were able to eliminate over 50,000 plastic items from the ecosystem by just asking the supermarkets not to give out a single bag on that day.
Green Weddings – “Memories Only.”
To tackle the river pollution caused by the styrofoam materials used in weddings, we decided to introduce a concept of “Green Wedding”. We collaborated with our Swachh Bharat team for this. We created a format for an eco-friendly wedding by making simple amends such as replacing plastic cups, plates and spoons with glasses and steel items. The flowers used were natural. And cloth replaced the polystyrene wedding boards.
There were over 2000 guests in the first green wedding we organised. We only had leftover food as the waste generated. By introducing these environment-friendly techniques, we had avoided adding almost 16,000 items of disposable and soiled plastic to the ecosystem. Since weddings are mass social gatherings they also serve as an excellent medium for propagating this idea. We have also collaborated with caterers, wedding planners and auditorium owners to make this option of a green wedding available to their clients. By introducing a certificate for having held such a marriage, we have provided them with an added incentive.
We presented the same concept in educational institutions for any cultural events they wanted to conduct. Here, in fact, the students are themselves washing their plates. This is helping us instil a sense of discipline while making them more sensitive towards this cause.
From Schools to Scrap Dealers
We held meetings with scrap dealers “kabadis” from across the district to get a more nuanced understanding of this issue. And it was during this interaction that we came across another huge problem. The scrap dealers can only use hard plastic for recycling. Since most plastic waste is not in this form, it is useless. To tackle this situation we joined hands with the education department which held a short training program on waste management for headmasters. After this, a project of collecting plastic waste through students began. After they gathered a sizeable amount of waste, it would be taken away by the scrap dealer. Today we have over 700 schools as a part of this programme.
The students are encouraged to get all kinds of dry recyclable waste from their households and nearby localities. This develops a sense of responsibility and is one of the best ways to reach out to the diverse strata of the masses.
Hotel Owners and Discounts
We held a meeting with the hotel owner’s association, after which we introduced a scheme. Customers who brought their takeaway containers would receive a 10% discount.
04. What is the eventual goal?
We want to make this system sustainable eventually. If you notice, there is a link based process. The schools look at this as a value-based program, and parents as a practical solution to a major crisis. For the scrap dealers, this is a way to make more money. It also provides a certain kind of dignity to these individuals who are from the marginalised section of the society. They are often harassed and ostracised. By increasing their output and interactions with the society, we aim to sensitise citizens and break the present barriers.
05. Why not introduce a ban? Would that not be a more efficient way to tackle this problem?
The society has to prepare for a ban. If not, you only complicate the situation by running after violators. This would overburden the executive workforce which already has defined statutory duties. So we felt it would be ideal to go for a sensitization and incentive-based campaign before announcing the ban. With sufficient information and alternatives in place, a ban will become redundant.
06. How have citizens responded to these reforms?
People have been very enthusiastic. Support has been pouring in from all corners. We have a tea seller who used to throw away 50 milk packets every day. Today he recycles them. A Panchayat bought steel cutlery for Rs 6 lakh. They gave them to women based self-help groups for use at weddings.
A video declaration has also been made by heads of all sub-regions to make Kannur Plastic and Disposable-free by 2nd April 2017. Alternative methods have been found for the political posters that were using non-recyclable plastic sheets for representation.
07. What other reforms have you undertaken? We’ve perused through the “Kannur Diaries” on Facebook? Could you elaborate?
Kannur is also home to a group of tribes which live on the Aralam Farm. To ensure that these tribal children attend school regularly, we have started a monthly fun trip to the city where they visit the mall, food court, collector’s office and a tourist destination. This also began in the children’s home for kids from abusive backgrounds. We have asked them to start writing diaries and taking up a hobby to nurture their inner self.
We have begun a format similar to The Humans of New York with the aim of creating a platform to convey the rich and bountiful history of Kannur. Although this is still in its infancy, we have found some amazing stories. Narrations of this quaint town from the colonial era, the story of a woman who’s husband shot a tiger when he was a police officer, a local gynaecologist who has delivered over 50,000 children, to the descriptions of meeting Nehru and Martin Luther by a circus owner, the page is an insight into a vibrant history.
The Logical Indians lauds the efforts of Mr Mir Mohammed and wishes that our readers are inspired to contribute more towards this worthwhile social cause.
Interviewer: Koshika Krishna