Operation Clean-Up transitions into a people’s movement; feet in the river

SHILLONG, June 26: Started in August 2019 by The Shillong Times to observe its 75th year, Operation Clean-Up (OCU) is into its third year and has taken on a life of its own. Since the time it started the team comprising Jiva Cares, MakeSomeoneSmile, KC Secondary School, Women’s College, Unitarian Church, CleansMann, Colonel Sishupal Security Company (CSSC), Meghalaya Home Guards, Martin Luther Christian University and later joined by Shubham (an NGO), Sikh Youth Association, Shillong Buddhist Association, Rotaract Club and individuals comprising Jasbir Singh and Malcolm Najiar who offers his JCB to clear the stubborn garbage that is buried into the river bed, among others, have been cleaning the Umkaliar river. This river is a major tributary of the Umkhrah.
On Saturday, around 50 volunteers were seen each engrossed in their own work. While some were in the river picking up all kinds of garbage, others carried the garbage to the collection centre from where it is picked up by the Shillong Municipal Board.
When asked why the team has been concentrating on this particular river, Jiwat Vaswani who has been with the movement from the very beginning said, “We are focusing on the Umkaliar river because the garbage flows here into the Umkhrah. By tackling the river upstream we are trapping several tonnes of garbage which includes clothes (jackets, pants, saris and flexes discarded by those holding various meetings), tonnes of plastic bags, huggies, sanitary napkins, liquor bottles etc. But what hurts us is to see drains from adjoining homes emptying themselves straight into the Umkaliar river. Interestingly the residents don’t come out to help in the cleaning drive.”
The OCU is so familiar with the Umkaliar, they know without being experts the problems that the river is burdened with. Flowing right from Nongrah, Lapalang, Rynjah, Umpling and Nongmensong the Umkaliar then joins the Wah Umkhrah at the Nongmensong bridge. The problem is with the Dorbar Shnong none of whom take responsibility to keep this river clean. Since building rules are either flouted or non-existent, houses are constructed right at the edge of the river. Septic tanks and drains from kitchens flow directly into the Umkaliar as they do into the Umkhrah. For decades the state government has notified that houses should stop emptying latrines into rivers but to no avail.
When asked why OCU keeps cleaning the Umkaliar fortnight after fortnight when there appears to be no visible results, the younger members enthusiastically say they are looking at behavioural change. “When people living around the river see us working with sincerity and a sense of purpose, we hope it has an impact on them and that at some point their behaviour will change and they will take responsibility to keep the river clean. Even now the children living around the river join us in cleaning the river.”
Another problem with the Umkaliar is that despite the notification from the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB), taxi drivers, truck drivers and private vehicles owners wash their vehicles right in the middle of the river. In fact, this is the problem with all rivers in Meghalaya from the Umiew at Smit to every other river across the state.
The Meghalaya High Court had taken up the issue of Umiam lake after it was flooded with tonnes of plastics following the collapse of the wall at Marten which is the city’s only landfill. What the High Court has not taken cognizance of is the fact that the garbage from Shillong city finds its way into the Umiam lake. If the lake is to be saved it would take a massive drive which would mean that all the Dorbar Shnongs have to be activated to take responsibility. A Rangbah Shnong speaking to this reporter said, “We need adequate resources to ensure that garbage is trapped at the border between one Shnong and another. Otherwise every Dorbar Shnong will blame the other since rivers flow through many Shnongs and Dongs.”
Meanwhile, Invest India a firm looking at corporate social responsibility has expressed interest to collaborate with OCU to try and assist it in tackling the challenges faced by the group. As of now, OCU is assisted by the deputy commissioner of East Khasi Hills and Shillong Municipal Board.
It may be mentioned that OCU also takes up tree plantation and nurturing at different locales around Shillong and beyond.

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