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Breathing life into rivers

The world is now waking up to the scourge of plastic, but Pune-based student Omkar Hemendra Ganu sensed the potential danger years ago. Not just plastic, Omkar has been fighting for several environmental battles, be it river resuscitation (in Pune) or waste water management. Such is the passion that he has decided to study ‘Environmental Engineering’ at Kolhapur Institute of Technology, College of Engineering.

Over to Omkar.

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How did you develop such a keen interest in ecology-related issues?

The turning point happened when I was in Class VIII. I had prepared a Powerpoint Presentation on global warming which was supposed to be presented by one of my friends. But the friend was not confident enough to take the stage, and he backed out at the last minute. Hence, I took the stage though I was not fully confident. But it changed my life. Students and teachers appreciated my style and it encouraged me to give more talks in school, related to environment.

Then what happened?

When I was in Class X, I met my mentor Vinod Bodhankar the founder of Sagarmitra Abhiyan. It was he who transformed my life completely. I started accompanying Vinod (sir) to various places and presentations. These journeys helped me learn much about environment. [Under the Sagarmitra Abhiyan programme, schoolchildren in Pune have been collecting plastic items from their homes for safe disposal, assisted by their teachers and community workers].

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How was your association with Sagarmitra?

I have joined Sagarmitra to make oceans plastic free by collecting it at source. I would take used plastic stuff to school, talk to other children and encourage others to do the same and inspire them. I spent my whole Class X vacation on learning about plastic recycling and the socio-economical aspects of this issue. In my college too, I realized that college students can do a lot more things than just bringing plastic. So we created a group which my mentor named Sagar Seva later. We took map of our area and marked nearby schools and we started visiting schools and asking them to implement Sagarmitra programme there. Let me say proudly that over 20,000 students are part of the programme now. We decided to work with other NGOs in Pune as well. We took part in a river walk arranged by Jeevitnadi Living River Foundation and that changed our whole perspective and understanding about our rivers. That day, we decided to do something for our rivers.

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What was your project with rivers?

One day Vinod (sir) took us to Vitthalwadi, a spot from our college where we can see the river. He showed us how to test the dissolved oxygen of river water by which we get to know about health of our river. We were shocked when the result threw up zero. Since then, we have decided to test water regularly and teach others as well. Then I realised that just mere testing of water will not make any difference. Aditi Deodhar, a renowned water activist and founder member of Jeevitnadi, narrated us the concept of ‘Adopt a River Stretch’. And we decided to adopt Vitthalwadi stretch. Around 200 to 300 volunteers have been working on the stretch every Sunday to bring life back life to the river. Then, I decided to go to Kolhapur to pursue a course in environmental engineering.

That’s interesting. Tell us about the environmental engineering course.

It’s basically the sub-branch of civil engineering. The syllabus consists of water, waste water treatment, air pollution control, green building and many other subjects related to environment. My college KIT (Kolhapur Institute of Technology, College of Engineering is the only college in Maharashtra which offers environmental engineering course at graduation level.

If there is one (good) habit that has helped you become what you are today, what would that be?

  • My focus, listening skills and open-mindedness
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