Athgaon NGO ensures self-sufficiency in ward maintenance
Ward No: 8
Population of the Ward: 25,000
Voter Population: 20,300
Population of Jayanagar Road: 9,250
Ward Councillor: Sunita Bhilwariya
About 23 years ago, a group of like-minded people, frustrated with the debris around the city’s Athgaon locality, started with two rickshaw-pulled carts and six sweepers.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi envisaged the same and gave it the name: Swachh Bharat Mission – cleaning the litter around.
Athgaon Development and Welfare Association (ADWA) today has six such carts manned by about 25 workers and caters to more than 200 shops and residential establishments disposing garbage in two shifts—day and evening.
The move has converted Athgaon, Ward No. 8, to one of the most self-sufficient wards under Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) so much so that the incumbent Mayor, Mrigen Sarania, after taking charge of GMC last year, lauded the efforts of the association and extended every help to the ward which is one of the largest in the city.
Located at the heart of the city, Athgaon connects east and west Guwahati with Paltan Bazar to its east and Bharalumukh to its west and has been one of the major commercial areas of the city having developed over the years along with Fancy Bazar.
Back in 1960s-70s, while Fancy Bazar developed primarily as a grocery and clothes market, Athgaon, due to its proximity to Fancy Bazar and being the connecting road to lower Assam from Paltan Bazar railway station, developed as a commercial area providing every motor related need to the vehicles travelling through it. This area also served as the most suitable residential area for the traders and location of godowns for products as Fancy Bazar had already started over-crowding.
The pace of infrastructural development, however, could not match the area’s commercial development. By the mid 1990’s, potholes covered most of the historical Sati Jaymati Road and waste from houses and shops lay strewn around in abundance.
“We reckoned that we needed to do something ourselves as this could not go on forever. Instead of looking up to the city administration to solve our problem for us, we took matters into our hands. It started with about 10 persons coming together and contributing Rs 5,000 each for the purpose,” Sabhash Swami, general secretary of ADWA said.
“We started with two rickshaw-pulled carts and appointed six persons to the task. We asked the people to put their garbage in the carts only and the carts were used to dispose the garbage off in the GMC dumping area at Goshala. It really clicked and so we thought of making it a permanent solution and sought contributions from the shops. About 30% of them helped and thus began our journey,” Swami said.
The association, however, got its first breakthrough in 1998 when the then PWD minister in the AGP’s Prafulla Mahanta cabinet, Nagen Sarma, visited the area and discussed about its development with the association in a day-long meeting.
“By 1998, we had already taken up quite a few initiatives. We had procured steel ashes with which we filled up the potholes. Back then, the over-bridge wasn’t there and the Sati Jaymati Road was the major artery. We also installed streetlights and the cleanliness drives continued. However, there still remained several areas of the road which needed attention during the minister’s visit. But he was really impressed with the way we conducted the development works and when we told him that we were willing to take up the construction of the road properly, the minister was more than happy to give us the contract,” Swami said.
The association got the tender worth Rs 14.10 lakhs for repairing the road in June 1998 which it completed within a year.
Today, the association has more than 150 members including shop owners and about 50 odd residential complexes who chip in with Rs 30 per month. The ADWA has inspired other localities too and quite a few similar associations came up only to fade away with time due to mismanagement and instances of fund embezzlement.
“Our organisation passed the test of time because it is a self-sustaining module. All the members are established in their respective fields of work and so don’t eye the association money. The workers are more than willing to work because not only do they get their regular salary but whatever they can get from the scraps belongs to them. After collecting the wastes from houses, they separate the recyclable wastes and dumps the rest at Goshala from where GMC collects it,” Swami said.
Over the two decades, the association has solved the problem of waste disposal for the already cramped Athgaon ward to the extent that people shared that they do not mind paying extra to the association even after paying the GMC taxes.
“The sweepers come in the morning and collect all the wastes from the houses daily. If we miss the morning shift somehow, they come again in the evening. People in several other areas of the city have to wait for the GMC people. At several others, they even have to carry their garbage to the bins on the street. We are saved from all that harassment and we only have to give one rupee per day,” Sushila Jain, a house wife of the area said.
Another resident, Nripen deka, a worker in a food joint there said, “It is very convenient. Food joints generate a lot of garbage daily, and with the two-shift clearance, a lot of our chores are taken care of.”
With ADWA already catering to the bulk of the population there, the councillor, Sunita Bhilwariya, told G Plus that the GMC is mulling appointing another NGO to lessen the burden on the ADWA.
“Athgaon is a very big ward and congested too. There is not enough space and resources to install a dustbin in front of every residential complex. The association has very tactfully dealt with the garbage issue. So, we are thinking of lessening their burden. I already spoke with the Mayor about the same and he has given the green signal to appoint another NGO to carry out similar works at other areas in the ward where the ADWA finds itself difficult to reach. The tendering process will start soon,” Bhilwariya said.
Athgaon Development and Welfare Association (ADWA) installed dustbin ta Athgaon