Early this year, a class of some 45 students in a suburban school in Pune,India, went home to their parents with one demand: Garbage. It was to be collected for a week, segregated meticulously and then carted off to school.
Today, the school has a miniature worm composting (vermiculture) pit, a lush row of plants fed on what it churns out, scores of happy parents whose kitchen waste is regularly put to good use, and a clutch of students who stride about officiously after class hours to check if anybody has left behind any litter.
The students' sense of environmental responsibility rubbed off at breakneck speed on their peers. They are part of the CLEAN-India campaign, a massive nationwide attempt to monitor and measure environmental degradation - and then spread the word that there's much to be done. The project is being implemented in 35 schools in and around India's capital plus others in 34 cities all over the country.
The students also began scouring Pune's busiest highways, water bodies, public taps and civic water pipelines armed with monitoring kits, testing 14 parameters for water quality and marking off levels of physical, biological and chemical components. Similar air-testing kits were used to monitor suspended particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The results from both monitoring exercises go to Development Alternatives' TARA laboratory on the outskirts of New Delhi, a modern research unit, packed with sophisticated equipment.
The findings are always worrying. Water samples from household taps, groundwater sources, handpumps and even slum areas contained ammonia, bacterial contamination - coliform and nitrate values well above permissible norms.
The students interact with decision makers and are catalysts for change. They will not rest until their voices are heard and remedial action is taken. From schools to communities, townships, districts, states and regions, a network of like-minded groups is created, fostering cooperation and community action.