GUWAHATI: Assam’s first “clean and green” village, Belona, has raised the bar one notch higher! The tiny hamlet under Patacharkuchi Assembly constituency in lower Assam’s Bajali district, home to 350 families, has kept the pandemic at bay so far.

Not just that, it has also lent a helping hand to many other villages during the COVID-induced lockdown over the past couple of years, making people aware of the precautions to be taken against the COVID-19 virus. 

As of now, the efforts have paid dividends.

Asked about the mantra, Jitu Mani Roy, the president of ‘Natun Belona Drishti NGO’ told EastMojo, “We have been COVID-19 free over the past two years and so wanted to make residents of other villages in Bajali district aware of the precautions to be taken against the virus.”

Belona, for the record, earned the invaluable tag of being the state’s first ‘clean and green’ village in 2019, a feat lauded through a tweet by the then chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and retweeted by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

“Very good! Cleanliness powered by community initiatives is always wonderful to see. Congratulations to everyone who has worked on this Swachhata effort,” the Prime Minister had responded on Twitter a couple of years ago, inspiring the natives of not just Belona but many villages in the vicinity.

During the lockdown, a clean-village committee, by the name of “Natun Belona Swacch Gaon Unnayan Samiti” led by Roy as its president, was constituted to take initiatives to keep Belona clean and at the same time spread the message against COVID across the nearby areas.

“We started printing posters and banners to make people aware about the dos and don’ts amidst the pandemic and to make them follow COVID appropriate behaviour. Posters were pasted across all the 96 villages of the districts. Besides, food, masks and soaps were distributed door to door. So much so that both the superintendent of police and deputy commissioner were impressed. Subsequently, they activated the village defence party members to assist the committee,” Roy, who started cleanliness drives in streets in 2014, said.

In June 2018, Belona had earned the tag of a ‘plastic-free’ village, thanks
to efforts of the NGO and the locals who have actively participated in eco-friendly ventures, including imposing a fine of Rs 500 on anyone seen using single-use plastic bags.

“I had ensured that each family had a dustbin. That was possible from the cash award earned after we earned the clean village tag,” Roy says, adding that about 80 per cent of the villagers in the hamlet are daily wage earners.

The activist has also engaged children in the clean drive, making them aware of the virtues of a clean and green environment and taking the lead in future.

Recalling an epidemic that had triggered the need for cleanliness about 25 years back, he says, “Lack of cleanliness and hygiene was a cause of cholera that infected many villagers in the mid-1990s. Belona did not have adequate toilets then, which compelled people to defecate in the open,” Roy said.

“I was very young then, and this needs to upgrade the village sparked the hunger to achieve and do something in 2014. However, we subsequently formed an NGO to streamline our clean and green drives. Saplings were planted during the campaigns,” he said.

However, despite pleas and proposals to the powers that be, development continues to elude the village.

“The proposals were given in 2019. The chart had needs such as a welcome gate for tourists, an auditorium, a children’s park, a weaving centre for women and a full-fledged sub-centre with adequate doctors. However, the pleas have neither been entertained nor have a memorandum submitted to the local MLA been responded to,” he rues. 

Roy says the amenities sought are imperative to woo tourists to the village. “Besides, our villagers will also have options of other livelihoods as the hamlet gets upgraded,” he added.

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