Ngawang Sonam, the environmental coordinator at the environmental desk of the Tibetan settlement office, Dharamshala, India. Photo: TPI

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Dharamshala, India — An interactive interview with Ngawang Sonam, the environmental coordinator at the environmental desk of the Tibetan settlement office, Dharamshala. He throws light into the goals and functions of the Unit since its commencement in 1994. The challenges that the Clean Upper Dharamshala Programme faces and its green worker’s dedication to keep an unpolluted environment for the general masses of Dharamshala.

TPI: Could you introduce yourself and the goals of this organization and the nature of the work you do here?

Interviewee: My name is Ngawang Sonam. I am the environmental coordinator here at the environmental desk of the Tibetan Settlement office. Actually this is a clean upper Dharamshala programme. It is not an organization but a unit undertaken by the Tibetan Settlement office.

The work we do here is to look after the waste management in the region of upper Dharamshala. It consists of ward no 1, 2, and 3 of the Municipal Corporation. Also, upper Dharamshala being the residence of His Holiness and our government in exile that is Central Tibetan Administration hence it is important to keep the surroundings clean for all people living in Dharamshala.

TPI: How is the Unit established and how many active members are there right now?

Ngawang Sonam (NS): About this unit, it was established in 1994. The main reason behind this very programme is that Dharamshala becomes a permanent residence for His Holiness in the 1960s. But back then in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s there were kind of not many waste issues because most of them were biodegradables. Plastic manufactures boomed up in the 1980s so in the early 1990s there were a lot of waste issues.

Actually the Municipal looks after the waste and clean the town and everything. But it was not up to mark. So the very local business stakeholders, organizations, and institutions thought they need to do something because this place is being His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence and CTA is also situated here so voluntarily on World Environment Day, 5th June 1994, this cleanup programme was established.

At the moment we have twelve active members/employees under us. Back then when we had a sanitation contract with Municipal and we had a total number of 33 active employees under us including three truck drivers, green workers, and sweepers.

TPI: How many times a month do you clean the upper Dharamshala and what kind of challenges do you face?

NS: We use to clean up upper Dharamshala on a daily basis. As for the mass clean up, we do it twice a month. Therefore, on a regular basis our employees clean up the town, our truck drivers pick up the trash and dispose of them safely at the landfills. We also have door-to-door service where our green workers will collect dry wastes. Our sweepers use to sweep up the whole town and streets of McLeod Ganj from Bhagsunath, Dharamkot, and from there to Dal Lake till the CTA. The changes we face are whenever we have to shift the garbage containers we need to take permission from Municipal Corporation, sanitation in charge.

People illegally dump the waste in places where it shouldn’t be dumped. Sometimes people instead of throwing the garbage in the garbage containers, throw them in drainage and in the streets. These are the main challenges we face.

TPI: What are your expectations from the mass clean up drive on 20th April?

NS: Regarding the Mass Clean Up, there are two main objectives behind it. First, to clean up the illegal dumpsites. On a daily basis, our employees are cleaning up the streets. Sometimes, people use to throw garbage in the riverside, in streets so there is an accumulation of garbage in the jungles and open areas. What we do over here is that we reduce the illegal dumpsites. Secondly, regarding the citizens' engagement that means people who want to volunteer in these types of mass clean up and organize them as well. These are the two main objectives we carry.

As for the expectations from the 20th April Mass Clean Up, we are cleaning the illegal dumpsites that have been happening for a long time, which is situated below Hondatail hotel and we have been cleaning for that very sport for a very long time but people’s manner or what to say even when we had already cleaned up, they would throw waste again. The place again accumulated with garbage after just one week or two. But this time, it is kind of very special as we are carrying the mass clean up near Gu Chu Sum and Jogiwara road where we had one garbage container back then.

We have shifted that garbage container to the Hondatail hotel site since there have been so many issues regarding the garbage and residences there. So once we have done the mass clean up of the whole town, we expect people to throw their trash in the containers that have been set up next to the illegal dumpsites instead of throwing them in jungles and open areas.

TPI: What are the campaigns and awareness conducted by your Unit?

NS: As for campaigns and awareness, at the school level, we go to different schools, both Indian and Tibetan schools. We give lectures at these schools on how to manage waste. When these children are out of schools they would know how to conduct and manage waste well. We not only talk about waste management but also other things like environmental issues, global warming, and how landfills should be managed, how sewage plant treatment should be done, and how waste insulation plant works. On the other hand, at street level, we conduct campaigns and awareness, whenever we have volunteers and interns from all around the world.

On a yearly basis, we have students from Sweden and Denmark, and different volunteers so we do flash mobs and carry banners in streets of McLeod Ganj. So that residents of Dharamshala will know some awareness about how to manage their wastes. Whenever we go for campaigns and flash mobs we would usually carry all the mic systems with us. We would send out messages of keeping the environment clean. We request passers-by to use bins and garbage containers instead of throwing them in open areas to pollute our surroundings.

TPI: Would you like to give any suggestions to the public about environmental care?

NS: My suggestion to the residents of Dharamshala will be that they should use the bins that are installed in different locations of the town instead of disposing of the waste in open areas. Generally, the public comes to throw their garbage at night when there is no one around. They have to walk only about fifty to hundred meters of distance to reach the garbage dumpsite. But they don’t seem to want to walk the short distance due to laziness and throw the waste all around. Our waste truck also goes around the town from 7:30 to 11:30 every morning to collect trash. The general public also knows when the truck comes by so it will be better to use these facilities we are providing.

From house level, we have door-to-door service to collect the dry wastes. So all they have to do is segregate the dry from wet wastes and hand them over to the green workers. They can throw the wet waste in the bins installed nearby. I would also like to recommend that if you have food wastes like biodegradables, you can compost them. Some people say that they don’t have enough space to compost the waste but there are many ways to compost biodegradable wastes. It can be done in the backyard as well as one can compost them in buckets too. These are the suggestions I want to give.

TPI reporters Nikhil Kujur recently conducted an interview with Ngawang Sonam, the environmental coordinator at the environmental desk of the Tibetan settlement office, Dharamshala, India.

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