Belona: Assam’s first ‘clean and green village’
Barpeta: Following the principle of ‘Swachhata’ and banning single-use plastic items, Belona village in Barpeta district of Assam has turned into an ideal example of a clean and green village over the years.
Located approximately 36 km from Barpeta town and 5 km from Pathsala, this village, which houses 350 families and majority of them are daily wage labourers, has now joined the exclusive club of being one of the cleanest villages in Northeast India, after Meghalaya’s Mawlynnong and Tripura’s Vanghmun village.
The women in the village play a vital role in keeping the village clean. They gather in groups in their free time once a day to make newspaper bags which they distribute to the shops and other business establishments in and around Pathsala town. The people in the village also collect Rs 50 from each household and spends in maintaining the cleanliness of the village.
Apart from being its cleanliness, the village is also popular for being free from any kind of intoxicants. Belona prohibits the sale of any kind of intoxicants within its boundaries and also imposes a fine of Rs 1,001, if a person is found creating nuisance after consuming alcohol.
Moreover, if anyone is found using the single-use plastic bags, the villagers impose a fine of Rs 501. The people also use dustbin made of bamboos, which the village people volunteers make of their own. These dustbins are placed in front of the houses of the villagers to keep the surrounding clean. The residents’ even volunteer to clean the areas that may be littered by someone else.
Speaking with EastMojo, an enthusiastic youth and president of Drishti NGO, Jitumoni Roy, said, “This has been a dream from my childhood as our village is very poor. I always have wanted to do something big. In 2014, we formed an NGO with 25 youths and named as 'Natun Belana Drishti NGO' and started doing cleanliness campaigns. We started from planting saplings where we were assisted by ‘Natun Belana Yuva Sangha’, ‘Notun Belana Goyan Raij’ and the women workers in this cleanliness drive. We then got recognised as a clean and green village of Assam.”
For the record, Belona is situated in between Bhabanipur and Sarukshetri Legislative Assembly Constituency (LAC) and falls under Patacharkuchi LAC, just 5 km from the headquarters of Bajali subdivision, around 2 km from the national highway towards the eastern side near the railway flyover at Pathsala.
When asked about the Prime Minister’s tweet mentioning about the village, Roy said, “We are at a loss of words on how best to express our happiness for the recognition accorded to our hard work to reach our goal of Swachhata. Now, we will work with double enthusiasm.”
Announcing about the village via Twitter, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said, “A community coming together to walk on the path of Swachhata, the people of Belona have shown how conscious collective effort can Beat Plastic Pollution.” And taking note of this achievement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took Twitter to congratulate them on their achievement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote, “Very good! Cleanliness powered by community initiatives is always wonderful to see. Congratulations to everyone who has worked on this Swachhata effort.”
The residents of Belona village expressed their joy and happiness when Prime Minister Narendra Modi retweeted the story. And the village has become a prime example of following the ‘Swachhata’ principle by completely banning single use plastic.
The secretary of a self-help group of Belana, Jeuti Das, said: “We have come up with the idea of banning the paper bags and use plastic bags instead. For the past two years, we have been making these paper bags and selling them in the Pathsala market. The present leader of Drishti NGO, Jitumoni Roy, has taught us to make these bags and the secretary of the NGO, Deepak Roy, has helped our self-help group a lot. They bring us the papers from Barpeta road without taking any fair from us.”
Das also seeks help from the government though EastMojo, “We are thinking that if chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and PM Narendra Modi could help us in any way, we can do more for our village. Also in this matter, the Brand Ambassador of Forest and Environment of Assam Ananda Khatuniar Deb has immensely helped us in keeping this village clean.”
The village comprises of nine subas, eight naamghars and one mosque. Though the people of Belona live simple lives, but they believe in high thinking and are preservers of traditional culture. While having a conversation with a teacher of Belona school, Dhiramoni Baishya, said, “Our school starts from 9 am and the student comes at around 8.30 and cleans their classroom and we too help them in cleaning. Our cook here also helps us in cleaning. First we clean the surroundings and then we start he classes here in the school. And in occasions like World Environment Day or Gandhi Jayanti we always follow the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.”
Expressing her gratitude towards the village Baishya said, “I have seen that the people here always try to keep the village clean. After seeing this, I feel proud that as a teacher I am a participant of this village and I always teach the students about the norms of this village,” adding “I wish that people follow the Belana village and save the earth in future. People should plant trees and ban plastic. Not only in Assam but people in all over the world should try to build a clean and green earth.”
The villagers have planted tree saplings in and around the village to identify themselves as a model village. It is also seen that the residents of the village are fully aware of the ill effects of plastic and the need for going green.
Jitumoni Roy also shared his memories from the initial days of the clean and green campaign, “When we started this, people used to laugh at us saying we are doing useless things and they also alleged us of corruption. The village people said that the NGO was just in name and it was a way for us to make money for ourselves. But as time passed, they came to know our intentions and openly supported us.”
Reading about this village on a facebook post, Parvej Dhanani a tourist from Agra came to visit the Belana village. He said, “I have read about this village in a facebook page and then I contacted one of the people from this village. But I could not understand him so I asked him his contact number and then after talking over phone I came here to see this village,” adding “The place where I came from is not clean and is much backward. There is a limited section of the society which is literate. I just came here to see this village and how the people here are keeping it clean.”
In the mean time, the Barpeta district administration rewarded the villagers as ‘neat and clean, green village’ and provided them a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh. The villagers purchased dustbins and distributed them among the 350 families of the village. They have also made waste disposal and scientific dumping a habit.
Now the villagers are planning to open a stall in the village to sell ethnic items such as kolakhar, handloom, paper bags and other eatables.