Bhadarwah: When more than 90 percent urban population of Bhaderwah Municipal limits and it’s peripheral areas have badly polluted the natural fresh water bodies flowing through the picturesque town by draining human waste and all the litter into them, the good news is that a small inaccessible hamlet inhabited by tribal Gujjars has shown the way how to keep water bodies clean and pollution free with minimum possible resources.
Implementing Government of India’s flagship scheme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in letter and spirit, the residents of Aalan hamlet with a very low literacy rate beside belonging to below poverty line category, about a decade back decided that they would not litter near the water bodies and elderly villagers issued an advisory that all the households would make their own septic tanks.
The villagers of Aalan got together 10 years ago to keep the Aalan stream flowing through the village clean.
The modus operandi was to get all the villagers (50 to 100), with the women on the frontline, together on Fridays to sweep, clean and separate the waste (plastic from other waste) to prevent it from entering the water body.
Besides heeding the advice of their elders to keep the natural fresh water body Aalan Nullah clean and fit for drinking, all the households digged pits and constructed septic tanks, becoming an epitome of the Prime Minister’s flagship scheme ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and an inspiration for the downstream villages and towns.
Located about 17 km from Bhaderwah town, Aalan in Katyara Panchayat of Bhaderwah is a unique hamlet and the last village of J&K on Chamba border of Himachal Pradesh.
Situated on the slope of the mighty Ashapati glacier, the hamlet is at the confluence of the Kailash and Ashapati glaciers.
The village has 30 households with a population of 270.
The main occupation of the village is farming, largely maize and rearing cattle.
The village gets adequate rain and derives its drinking water from Aalan Nullah and is distributed by pipes to each household.
Bhaderwah town is located downstream of this village.
Aalan is unique not just for its location but also for the bold step the village has taken to make itself garbage and plastic-free and keep its water resources free of pollution and waste.
“While starting this initiative, our main aim was to prevent the garbage, including human and animal waste, from entering the stream. Another problem we had in the village is that the latrines were open and the majority of residents were practicing open defecation that polluted the water bodies badly. After our initiative a decade back to construct toilets in limited resources, the Rural Development Department came forward to help us as a part of its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and with their help we constructed soak pits and septic tanks,” says 70-year-old village elder Hashim Din Teenda.
“We want to set an example for adjoining villages, especially Bhaderwah town that sends all its sewage into the natural water bodies that flow in the town where people are already complaining of ailments such as kidney stones because of this polluted water. We do not want to do that. We have a responsibility as the upstream village to send clean water to downstream villages and Bhaderwah city,” said Rozy Begum, 20, the only woman of the village who has studied upto 12th standard.
According to 2011 census, in Bhaderwah town out of the total 2029 houses, 1987 are without septic tanks and all the human waste finds its way in the open drains through which it enters into the three freshwater streams flowing through the town - Neeru, Halain and Puneja Nullah.
“Technically, Bhaderwah town is number one in J&K in terms of open defecation followed by Budgam district due to which our people are forced to perform human scavenging everyday and surprisingly Municipal Committee Bhaderwah has managed to declare Bhaderwah open-defecation free town four years ago which is a cruel joke,” said Aashiq Ali Watal, President Watal Association Jammu and Kashmir.
“Till 1984, all of us used the water from all the three streams for drinking and cooking food but unfortunately we polluted the fresh water bodies so badly that now they stink. We should take a lesson from the poor Gujjar community of Aalan village and government agencies should also take immediate corrective measures to save the precious water bodies,” said Dharam Kant Dogra, an environmentalist from Bhaderwah town.