Coming soon: India's first garbage cafe set to open in Chhattisgarh

Papa, why don’t you follow the model of  London Rubbish Café?" Kamayani exclaimed. Her father, Manoj Singh, thought this would be the perfect idea to give Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur city an unmistakable identity in the country. The theme of swapping plastic waste for food deeply influenced Singh, who is the Commissioner of Ambikapur Municipal Corporation (AMC).

Kamayani, who has cleared class XII this year, helped him with the business model. Without further ado, the project to set up India’s first Garbage Café in the city that houses a population of about 200,000 was finalised. The plan will help ragpickers and the homeless to get a full meal in return for collecting a kilogram of plastic waste; and snacks with tea for half a kilogram from the proposed Café. 

“My child conceived the plan that I presented it before the Mayor (Dr Ajay Tirkey),” Singh says. Dr Tirkey approved it without reservation and included it in the agenda of the general body meeting of the AMC held last week. The proposal was passed unanimously. The corporation has made a provision of Rs 5,50,000 from its own resources to begin with and will arrange further funds as required. 

Ambikapur was declared India’s second cleanest city after Indore in Madhya Pradesh. A major credit for the same is given to the solid waste management project adopted by the municipal corporation with the help of women self help groups
The AMC aims to target two issues in one go — getting rid of plastic waste and providing food to the needy. About 100 ragpickers and homeless people have been identified in the town, about 450 kms from the Chhattisgarh capital, for the job. The concept addresses their concern of food security. 

Singh says they will watch the response to the project for a month. “If it succeeds, it will be expanded accordingly,” he says. The authorities are in touch with small private hotel owners to open sub-centres across the city. “The sub centres will help the beneficiaries to cover shortest distance,” he adds.  

The Café was scheduled to start from August 1. Singh says it will be delayed slightly and is likely to start operations from August 15. “Initially, we planned to start the project from a small centre; without much fanfare,” he adds. After the idea of the Café was noticed and picked up by the national media, they thought of giving the project a new look and launching it in a big way. The new centre, comparatively bigger, is being developed.

Under the plan, beneficiaries coming with the plastic waste will be provided a coupon that will provide meal or snack. “The menu consists rice, dal, one vegetable curry, papad and pickle,” Singh says. The snacks include either samosa, poha or bhajiya with jalebi and tea. 

The proposed Garbage Café will be another leap forward in the cleanliness drive of Ambikapur, the divisional headquarters of coal-rich Sarguja region. The town has created a niche with the green warriors (as the women group is known). 

Clad in green-orange saris and masks, caps, gloves and shoes, these women trudging down the streets with rickshaws painted green and red have begun to represent an inimitable identity. Besides making money out of garbage, they have set a precedent in the Swachh Bharat campaign by making the town waste free. 

Under the Central government’s Swachh Survekshan 2019 rankings, Ambikapur was declared India’s second cleanest city, following Indore in Madhya Pradesh, jumping 15 places from last year. The Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) method, adopted in the state for the first time, has made the difference in solving the problem of urban waste.

The then district collector, Ritu Sain took the initiative while chairing a review meeting on February 22, 2015. The local civic body officials demanded 20 acres of land for dumping garbage. Sain suggested instead of dumping the garbage, they should develop a mechanism for managing it. 

The entire administration plunged into action, and the journey began. Inspired by an  episode from the TV show Satyamev jayate and C Srinivasan of India Green Service, the project started within a month with training and capacity building of women self help groups (SHGs). About 1,000 women were trained of which 610 members were selected. 

Most of the women belonged to the economically weaker section; a good number of them were widow and divorcees. The 444-member team of women now working in the streets of 48 wards in the city is converting the waste as resource. The job starts early in the morning. Each group comprising 10 members covers about 300 houses, collects the source segregated waste at door-step every day and deposit them at their respective SLRM center. The work of collection is completed by noon. The organic waste is turned into compost while the inorganic waste is further segregate into 158 categories after cleaning (if required). The city now does not have a dumping area. 

While the women’s drive has gained national acclaim, it has cast a shadow over the success of Garbage Café. “Since the women groups are collecting waste from doorstep and city is free from the dumps, from where will the plastic waste come from?” senior councillor from the opposition BJP, Madhusudan Shukla says. And even if the ragpickers collect the waste, they would prefer to sell it to scrap dealers. For, cash is more preferable than food for them. But till then, the Garbage Café is getting ready to open.

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