Hailing from Sikkim, the 2015 batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre was concerned over the growing dependence of people on plastics in Assam. The growing use of plastic is negatively impacting the environment and creating problems for plants, wildlife and even human population.
So when Megh Nidhi Dahal was posted as the sub-divisional officer (SDO), North Salmara Subdivision, Bongaigaon, he thought to initiate the change right away from his office. He first replaced the plastic cups and glasses in his office with glass tumblers and earthen cups.
“If you go to any government office, attend meetings or functions like I-Day or Republic Day, you will come across disposable plastic cups and bottles. It is an easy way out as providing cutlery for a huge crowd is not feasible. That is what I wanted to change when I came to Abhayapuri last year in January,” said Megh while speaking to Time8.
Sikkim is the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags, way back in 1998. In 2016, Sikkim banned the use of plastic water bottles in government offices and government events. The use of styrofoam and disposable thermocol plates and cutlery has also been banned in the entire state.
The first event which the bureaucrat organised after his posting at the Subdivision was the Republic Day in 2018. “Since that very day, we are trying to minimize the usage of plastic. I ordered my staff members to stop using plastic cups and glasses in my office and replace those with steel jars and glass tumblers. I motivated my staff members that by choosing eco-friendly ways we will be contributing to the conservation of the environment,” the IAS officer from Sikkim added.
The officer further informed that earthen cups and saucers, sourced from local clay artisans in Abhayapuri, are used during office meetings. His office buys the earthen items in bulk and reuses them as and when required.
However, Megh faced the big challenge against plastic during the 2018 Panchayat elections. “We tried to reduce the usage of plastic but one non-vegetarian or vegetarian item had to be served in thermocol bowls. Though I found an eco-friendly replacement of plastic plates, I couldn’t find any alternative of the thermocol bowls. I researched and found out that there are bowls made of cornstarch. So, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we replaced the thermocol bowls with the cornstarch ones. We sourced it locally from Barpeta and other parts,” Megh further shared.
The young bureaucrat also begged to differ when said people are reluctant to opt for eco-friendly products as they are generally more expensive than traditional ones.
“There is a thin margin if you calculate the cost of buying biodegradable products with the cost of disposing of the plastic items. The damage done by the plastic and the expenditure incurred in order to get the environment rid of it is huge,” added the software engineer turned sarkari babu.
The crusade against changing the mindset of people bore him results when one of his staff used reusable cutlery during the annaparashan (rice feeding ceremony) function of his son.
“It is a long way to go. The first goal is to reduce the use of single-use plastic. The mantra is to reuse. During meetings, I don’t serve any wet item for which I will need a plastic bowl. I have tweaked the menu and instead of serving a rosogolla, I order boondi ladoo. We all need to take steps to tackle the ever-increasing garbage problem due to plastic and do our bit for the environment,” Megh shared.
The steps taken by the bureaucrat is commendable as it sets a powerful example for the other government offices to follow. He has proved what former US president Barack Obama had said. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. And it is rightly said the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step and committed citizens can change the world.