Rameshwaram cleanup drive makes quiet and steady progress

ET Bureau Jul 12, 2014, 10.59AM IST

CHENNAI: Ganga has Modi & team, but it's the NGO drive that is doing the cleanup act for South's temple town Rameshwaram. Even before the Centre embarked on an ambitious programme to clean up the Ganga, temple town Rameshwaram in the south had decided that it needed a clean break from its polluting ways on its own.

Located on Tamil Nadu's southern coastline, Rameshwaram is one of the holiest places for Hindus and receives about 1.5 crore pilgrims and tourists every year, resulting in the degeneration of the environment and ecological balance around the area. But earlier this year a group led by non-governmental organisation Vivekananda Kendra began work to clean and transform Rameswaram through what it calls the "Green Rameshwaram Project". The plan was set rolling in January by former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

"It all started with cleaning the water bodies (or 'theerthams' as they are called) in and around the famous Ramanatha Swamy temple. They were almost ruined and we revived those," said G Vasudeo, secretary of Vivekananda Kendra's Natural Resources Development Project.

"Then with this success, we decided to take up the cleaning of the entire town." A detailed report is being prepared but a rough estimate shows the project will require about Rs 250 crore, says Vivekananda Kendra. It plans to rope in like-minded individual donors and corporate donors for the cause. The project will address issues such as archaeology, history, marine biodiversity, solid waste management, ecotourism, and beautification, among other things.

The Vivekananda Kendra has tied up with organisations, such as Brahmos Aerospace to help in solar electrification of some hamlets in Dhanushkodi, the southernmost tip of the island. The team is also is exploring ways of working with IIT-Madras for help in the use of certain technologies.

"We have had initial rounds of discussions with the Kendra and we would be working with them in areas such as clean transport, non-conventional use of energy and atmospheric pollution control," said S Gopalakrishnan, project consultant at The Rural Technology Action Group, IIT-M. The dumping of waste such as plastic items into the sea has been one of the main factors for the depletion of fish in the surrounding areas, forcing fishermen to move further away from the coast for their catch.

"The dumping of sewage into the sea has even made the courts to say that taking a dip in it is a health hazard. But people come here all the way to wash away their sins in these holy waters," said Aravindan Neelakantan, a volunteer with the Vivekananda Kendra. He said water bodies in Rameshwaram have been scientifically built centuries ago and excellent examples of rainwater harvesting. "We are just trying to revive these. It is astonishing to find freshwater in these water bodies given that we are surrounded by saline water," he says.

200-year-old Mohabeer Dharmasala restored to its green glory

Sporting a New look:Collector S. Natarajan visiting the 200-year-old Mohabeer Dharmasala, renovated by Vivekananda Kendra in Rameswaram on Friday.— Photo: L. Balachandar

“This will be an ideal building to showcase use of green energy”

The Vivekananda Kendra, which has been working on “Green and Clean Rameswaram” project, giving fresh lease of life to ‘theerthams’ (venerated water bodies) in around the island, has renovated the 200-year-old Mohabeer Dharmasala, preserving the antiquity.

The massive structure built by a Maharashtra-based businessman, near the Railway Station, was vandalised and presented a picture of neglect after it remained shut for nearly 12 years, when the Kendra took up its renovation by engaging Puducherry-based conservation architect Asaithambi Gurusamy.

The Dharmasala, in which Maa Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, had stayed, wore a new look now with fresh coat of paint and all set for inauguration during the middle of this month. It was renovated at a cost of Rs. 1.37 crore.

“We have renovated the whole structure using lime mortar, one of the oldest types of mortars and Madras terrace roofing, the traditional flooring technique practiced in south India to preserve the antiquity,” Mr. Gurusamy told The Hindu on Friday when Collector S. Natarajan inspected the renovation work.

When the 8,500 sq ft ground and first floor structure was shut for about 12 years, it was vandalised and the wood and rafters were stolen, he said. “Nearly 50 per cent of the roofing was not there and we renovated the roofing with its originality,” he said.

The original building had 11 rooms at the ground floor and three in the first floor, mainly for the business community to stay after offering worship at the Sri Ramanathaswamy temple and they have converted the ground floor into an open air auditorium.

The auditorium would be used to showcase the folklore of Rameswaram, its unique culture and landscape of the island through drama, short film and puppet shows, Mr. Gurusamy said. The auditorium could accommodate about 70 pilgrims and the shows would be organised daily, he said.

The important aspects of the renovation were installation of solar power to meet the entire power requirement and decentralised waste water system, he said adding “this will be an ideal building to showcase use of green energy.”

The Kendra was implementing ‘Green and Clean Rameswaram project’ under the Natural Resources Development Project (NARDEP) and the structure was renovated under the project, V. Saraswathi, Project coordinator, said.

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