By Nitya Satyani | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 12, 2016
Borrowing from the Prime Minister’s initiative, Pri Shewakramani, along with Jaisinh Mariwala, founded ‘Swachh Mahabaleshwar’ in 2015, an inspirational initiative to promote sustainable tourism and conserve the forest cover and natural reserves of Mahabaleshwar. She now has the Hotel Association of Mahabaleshwar, the crew of several hotels including her own Brightland Resort Mahabaleshwar, along with Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar and the Mahabaleshwar Club, private bungalow owners, Mapro, Sahyadri Trekkers, and government organizations such as Mahabaleshwar Municipal Council and the Forest Department among others, lending their hands and brooms to assist her in this mammoth task.
Opening Doorz meets up with the young, enterprising hotelier from Mumbai, who has risen above the very convenient ‘armchair activism’, to show us that actions speak louder than words.
What prompted you to initiate this monumental task when it very easily could have been ‘someone else’s problem’?
Mahabaleshwar is my second home and I have grown up spending time in the forests there. I actually was on a trek with a family friend of mine last year when we saw a lot of garbage on the trekking path. At that point, we were discussing how Mahabaleshwar would go down the path of Lonavala if we didn’t do something. My family friend said he would help me but that since I was young I should take the lead on it. That’s how ‘Swachh Mahabaleshwar’ was born. I also felt responsible as a hotelier, as tourism has a lot of negative environmental effects.
How did you go about planning and executing this drive?
Initially I reached out to the Forest Department and the Municipal Corporation in Mahabaleshwar. I had meetings with them to understand how I could go about starting this. Once I got their support, I reached out to the Hotel Association as well as individual hotels and businesses. The entire community has been very supportive and as a standard, the first Wednesday of every month is when we do the clean-ups.
Were other hoteliers and locals willing to come on board immediately? Did any of them dismiss it completely?
Not one person dismissed it. However, everyone was skeptical whether I would actually be committed to the cause. I think the first clean-up we did will stand out as one of my best moments in life. We had over 400 volunteers and all the roads had black garbage bags on it from trash that the volunteers had picked up.
Did you face any challenges to get this drive in motion?
I think the initial challenge was convincing people that I was serious about the initiative. Now it’s more about making sure that all stakeholders participate every month.
One year on, are you still as passionate about your cause or have you ever lost
hope in instilling values of hygiene and civic sense in our country?
To be honest, I do struggle with the lack of civic sense in the country. It’s heartbreaking seeing a place we have cleaned up been trashed in a few days. However, as a result, I have become more passionate about actually trying to change this.
How long do you see yourself being a part of this? Do you think hoteliers in Mahabaleshwar will continue to lend their support?
I think for me, this is a lifelong initiative. I believe the hoteliers will continue to lend their support as it’s in our interest to keep Mahabaleshwar clean and green as well.
Swaach Bharat is over a year old and people seem to have gone from bad to worse. There is still spitting and flinging of garbage in Mumbai, for instance. If you were to be given charge of this city, what would your plan be?
I think heavy fines for littering and enforcement are the only way to go. Singapore is a great example of how fines helped clean up a city.
If locals or other authorities in your zone would like to offer their assistance how can they reach you?
They can reach me on our Swachh Mahabaleshwar Facebook Page.
(Nitya Satyani is a reader, dreamer, traveller and a shopa-choco-holic beyond repair. She is best described as a teacher by qualification, writer by passion and a mother by profession!)
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