A green temple in the desert
Gods and goddesses in the Indian pantheon are greatly revered in the country. So are their abodes or temples. But other than that, even gods cannot vouch for cleanliness and hygiene in most of India's temple towns. The adage 'Cleanliness is next to godliness' simply doesn't hold true in most of the temples dotting the country.
That is why the temple town of Salasar in Rajasthan's Churu district is so different. Known for its famous temple Salasar Balaji, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, it is gearing up to turn into a zero-waste region with the mantra of sustainability.
Salasar, about 180 km from Jaipur, hosts one of Rajasthan's richest temples. It is now undergoing an eco-friendly makeover to make its devotees realise the importance of going green.
The concept of merging religious tourism with heightened eco-awareness among common people and devotees on the necessity of cleaning up the mess around the temples is gaining ground in Rajasthan.
Some temples like Tirupati in South India, Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer have incorporated solar energy years ago to become eco-friendly.
But Salasar Balaji would be the first temple in the desert state to turn it into an eco village par excellence. The cash-rich temple aims to turn into a zero-waste region by 2015.
The Balaji's idol here is different from all other idols of Hanuman. Here Balaji has a round face with moustache and beard, making it unique.
Salasar Balaji attracts lakhs of devotees from all across the country especially on Chaitra Shukla Chaturdashi (April) and Sharad Purnima (October). The crowd especially surges on Tuesdays and Saturdays every week.
"The deity receives veneration from devotees of West Bengal as well, especially Marwaris, from places like Kolkata, Malda, New Jalpaiguri, Durgapur and Gangasagar come here regularly," Vijai Pujari, chief of Shri Hanuman Seva Samiti (HSS),which runs the temple, said. "It is usually to pay obeisance to Balaji after a wish fulfillment," he added.
Interestingly Salasar, about three square km in area, has a population of not more than 5000 but more than 60 small guest houses run here to cater to the religious tourists. Obviously, the town's economy is centered around its temple.
The small town benefits from the huge tourist flow and the consequent economic opportunities it offers for the local population. But at the same time, Salasar has to suffer stress on its environment. Increase in transportation, waste generation, water and energy use during those peak seasons are slowly but steadily deteriorating Salasar's natural environment. It is a threat to the sustainability of the village's resources, to its tourism activities, and thus economic sustainability as a whole in the long run and also poses health risks for the local population.
So HSS, Salasar Gram Panchayat and Shree Salasar Vikas Dham Samiti along with the NGO, Centre for Development Communication (CDC) working in the field of solid waste management and integrated water management, and corporate Kanak Resources Management Limited (KRML) conceived a plan to turn the temple town into a zero-waste region.
Work started in August, 2013, and is expected to finish over a period of two years.
Vivek Agarwal, secretary, CDC, says, "The project is aimed at transforming Salasar into an eco-village following the three zero waste policies: zero waste from solid waste, zero waste of water and zero waste of energy."
Says project co-ordinator and water analyst, Laura Larroquette: "The goal is to develop sustainable resource and waste management practices by maximizing the efficiency of resource use and waste reuse, improving environmental sanitation and thus improving people's health and living conditions. Using tourism as a vector for awareness is also one of the main focus of this project."
Agarwal says that the temple management was very receptive to the idea in making it a total zero-waste region since the daily waste collection from the premises ranges between 4 to 5 tons on any day.
The Samiti, however, has already put in place a number of eco-friendly measures like installing ample number of dustbins in the temple compound, proper drainage system with covered drains, structured system of entry and exit in the temple compound.
Also other measures like the fully automised temple kitchen to optimise the system of food distribution and minimise food wastage, systematic collection of wastes manually, water sachets for distribution to devotees, gives the temple brownie eco-points. It also has an in-house fertilizer product.
A Salasar Action Group including the agencies, local populace, district administration and temple samiti members, and gram panchayat has been formed to improve the current solid waste collection, transportation and disposal system.
Jitmal, a member of the HSS says: "Salasar needs such activities as solid waste or water management. Actually, our main problem lies in the high level of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) in drinking water. Sometimes, TDS are so high that you cannot even measure them"
Presently, waste is collected twice everyday from 14 waste collection points and directly from dustbins present outside every shop. An average of four to five tons of waste is disposed of every day.
The main challenges lie in workers health conditions, the reuse and recycling of waste and the sizing of the collection system, none of which is currently in place.
CDC studies show that 52% of the waste generated is recyclable. And food waste, which accounts for 15% of the total generated waste, is not used for composting activities or even feeding the cows.
Waste includes food, vegetable waste, cooked and uncooked food, plastic bags, wrappers, medical wastes, paper cups, plates, etc.
The project aims to help local people earn a livelihood by selling recyclable waste to a recycling plant, which would also ensure a sound and solid waste management system. Using food waste mixed with cow dung is a great way to produce energy from local 'resources'.
If the Salasar example is replicated by other holy pilgrimage centres it would indeed create the right atmosphere for peace and prayer.
(Posted on 13-03-2014)