In 2017, 24-year-old Sagar Vasoya from Surat, Gujarat decided to stop the social blame game and be the changemaker.
Often during his everyday commute within the city, Sagar noticed that the Tapi, a major river of the peninsular India that has fertile, high-yielding soil, was filled with water hyacinths.
Water hyacinths, a variety of weed when grows into a dense monoculture results in impeding the flow of water, polluting the water body, blocking navigation, and making it a suitable space for the breeding of mosquitoes. It also damages irrigation activities and the filth makes the water ill-suited for human consumption.
According to several reports, it usually costs the local authorities a huge amount of money to get rid of the pollution and completely eradicate the menace. Similar was the case with Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) which met with limited success in the issue.
"I had never cleaned my house, let alone a river," exclaimed Sagar. Recounting his childhood, he said that he had to drop out of school in the eighth standard due to financial constraints and had to work as a craftsman in a diamond shop. Somehow, he could get through the classes and completed his higher secondary education.
The stint as an independent young man taught him shouldering responsibilities and he plunged into spearheading the initiative for cleaning up the river.
Sagar asked his friends for a helping hand but to his dismay, nobody turned up. He then decided to involve the community for this cause.
He approached a few fishermen who lived close by with his idea and explained to them the benefits of having the river cleaned. He described to them how the removal of the invasive weeds would make it easier to fish and also navigate the river.
Luckily, one of the fishermen came on board and agreed to help out and together they began removing some of the weeds manually, which they were realising was a labourious and time-consuming task.
But the young changemaker was persistent with his efforts, and went back to carry out the activity every week. Soon, he started getting volunteers from his group of friends and acquaintances who also contributed to the project financially.
In the absence of proper formal schooling, technology came to Sagar's rescue. He invested in learning and understanding about the issue with online research. A little later, his group decided to make use of machines for the cleaning purpose since physical work was taxing.
They developed a hand-rigged crane, similar to the one used for lifting cows. "We developed the same type of manual crane which can lift a net with 250 kg water hyacinth," he said.
And that was just the beginning of using machinery. Soon, earthmovers and cranes had to be employed and this cost them a significant amount of sum. They managed to contribute ₹1 lakh through crowdfunding.
With time and increased efforts, Sagar had realised that the task was a long-term process and it needed expert intervention for guaranteed success. So, making use of his entrepreneurial skills, he convinced a London-based water expert as well as a mechanisation expert to join the effort.
The experts suggested mechanised and scientific methods of weed removal which would increase the yield manifold—in tons per week as against a few hundred kilos that Sagar and friends were managing to eradicate.
Having sustainable and assured solutions at bay, Sagar decided to pitch the idea to the local municipal corporation which had been spending close to ₹5 lakh/50 tons to remove the weeds. And yet, every monsoon, more weeds would grow to turn the efforts to waste.
Sagar and friends, now a 200 strong group of citizens, approached the mayor with a plan to carry out the cleaning task at ₹0.26 lakh/150 tons which was three times the output at a fraction of the cost.
However, the terms of the project said that the mayor and SMC would provide machinery and money, and the citizens' team including Sagar would provide manpower.
An individual's resolve had become a joint effort of the community and the government to clean up river Tapi. The butterfly effect had taken place and in a matter of just six months, the mammoth task was completed.
Sagar, now 27, feels that the impact and energy generated by this activity have given his life a purpose and direction. He currently runs his own business of diamond tools and lab-grown diamonds.
While he no longer contributes to the weed-removal activity, he has moved on to other community initiatives, like education and nutrition of tribal children.
This story has been received from Giving Circle. It is a platform that connects social change makers, donors, and volunteers. They are working to scale up these initiatives.