Nirmal had just returned after a term at IOB’s Hong Kong branch. He was deeply impressed with the work culture of the Chinese and their interest to keep their city clean. He contrasted the growth recorded by Hong Kong, which was just a group of under-developed villages hardly three decades earlier. But by sheer dent of hardwork, discipline and determination to excel, Hong Kong emerged as the third largest financial centre of the world. Nirmal dreamt of adopting the best practices of Hong Kong. He spoke about this and wrote in a Tamil weekly edited by the famous Saavi. He motivated his colleagues at the branch and developed it as a model. Pretty soon, he also wrote on improving the civic consciousness of Chennai metro.
Source segregation of waste
Thus was born ExNoRa – Excellent, Novel and Radical. ExNoRa concentrated on the major issue of handling the huge volume of waste disposal. I was reminded of my experience of developed countries tackling this problem. I visited my friend Gunter Wehrmann at Bonn, then capital of West Germany, who served as a German Consul in Chennai. Outside his kitchen, I noticed four sparkling dustbins made of stainless steel. He pointed to the segregation of waste at source, by then mandatory in Germany. They were for organic waste including food, paper and boards, plastics and other recyclable materials. Thus, as early as 1987, the focus on segregation and on recycling waste material was widely practiced in Europe and the U.S and was helpful in tackling the tremendous volume of municipal waste.
From waste to wealth…
ExNoRa assisted the Chennai Corporation in organising waste collection, right from the 1990s. It devised methods to use organic waste as compost and manure. The self-help movement created over 3000 ExNoRa units that took care of such local needs. The next stages of evolution were rainwater harvesting, roof top kitchen gardens and ultimately segregation of waste at the source. Over time it has developed expertise on recycling waste and managing solid waste. With the problem of handling municipal waste increasing, the Chennai Corporation invited multi-national corporations to handle the problem. Onyx and Neel Metal Fanalca have been assigned to handle the issue of garbage clearance in select divisions of Chennai. In this process ExNoRa was not given the attention it deserved.
Civic ExNoRa was introduced first in Adyar, Chennai in October 1988. A street beautifier with a tri-cycle was employed to collect waste door-to-door. Funds collected through modest subscriptions from the community members were used to pay the street beautifier. There are about 5000 such units in Chennai and various districts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala… covering about 30,000 streets and settlements.
Sense of ownership…
ExNoRa has been a success in motivating people to keep their surroundings clean and in creating a sense of ownership. To instill environmental awareness in students, ExNoRa launched the Student ExNoRa Programme (STEP) in 1994.
At the silver jubilee of ExNoRa, I suggested a Padma Bhushan award for Nirmal for his excellent, novel and radical innovation. I also suggested ExNoRa to work on upgrading the quality of education in the Chennai schools run by Chennai Corporation. There are 285 schools well-endowed with land and building. These, once produced celebrities like Dr. C K Prahalad, General Sunderji and Dr. P V Indiresan. Today these do not have enough demand while some of these are closed for want of students! IE has been advocating the public private partnership model for upgrading these like public schools as in the US. The newly elected chairman, Sudhir Lodha has welcomed this idea and is keen to pursue the matter with the policy makers.