Aakash Jain 18, a student of Thakur College, Kandivli, has all his weekends booked for voluntary service at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli.
Jain and his classmates from the Bachelor of Accounting and Finance (BAF) course have been helping SGNP officials since July 21 to ensure that visitors do not enter the national park with plastic bags, bottles or alcohol.
The national park has imposed a fine on visitors carrying plastic into the park as part of its ‘Plastic Litter Free’ campaign. Students from Thakur College have volunteered to help.
The first team of 25 volunteers reaches SGNP at 10am on the weekend, when the park attracts more than 6000 visitors even during the monsoon.
The team is then split up to manage different tasks such as frisking people at the entrance, checking their vehicles,
providing paper bags to compensate for the confiscated plastic ones and overall supervision. At 1pm, a second team takes over.
“The idea is to generate awareness and protect the park. A large number of plastic bags are found in visitors’ vehicles. We have also performed a street play at the park on the disadvantages of plastic and importance of recycling,” said Jain.
Nishikant Jha, assistant professor and coordinator of BAF, Thakur College, got the students to volunteer and accompanies them to the park.
He said that one cannot expect visitors to readily give up plastic bags without giving them an alternative. Thus, students distribute free paper bags. On a given weekend, around 6000 paper bags are given out and more than 40 kg of plastic is confiscated.
Plastic does not decompose for hundreds of years and is a long term threat to plants and animals. It prevents rainwater from seeping into the soil and its chemical components are harmful to the digestive system of animals.
Range forest officer DN Patil said that roping in students has helped ease visitors’ apprehensions of dealing with police or forest officials.
“When students address them as ‘bhaiya’ or ‘didi’, the process becomes more streamlined and pleasant. The mere presence of students brings a sense of affinity and occasionally a compliment,” he said.
Sushil Shinde, district co-ordinator of National Social Service for Mumbai University, plans to expand this initiative. “In the next few weeks, volunteers from Bal Bharti (Kandivli) and Nirmala college (Malad) will also join in,” he said.