Issue 15

Ponds in Pondicherry: Hear from the citizen responding to every SOS on the east coast

Neer Kudam, a decorated copper pot filled with water from Ousteri lake, a bird sanctuary and wetland bordering Puducherry, traveling to 100 schools in the Union Territory. When India was battling a pandemic in early 2021, Pondicherry launched its one school, one pond initiative. A pond by the premises of the SRS Government Higher Secondary School, was just the beginning. The school, set in a low lying area, was a sink for rain water from the neighboring storm water drain, now stood transformed, into a community rain water harvesting structure. No more snakes, pigs and anti-social elements. The largest Bund in the urban limits of Pondicherry was now a walking area, with space for kids to play near a water body, brimming with life. The students also got Neer Nilay, a mobile app from the National Centre for Coastal Research, to measure all parameters around their pond on a continual basis. This novel idea to link each school with a local pond, was for a young generation to not only connect directly with a bio-diverse waterbody, but also for teachers to integrate history, geography, math, science, art and culture in the syllabus. That neer kudam, a reminder of new and old Cholan connections of valuing water.

Image taken from Probir Banerjee’s Facebook page- A pond being readied                            

One of the many stakeholders of this local celebration of Tamil water heritage, civil engineer citizen Probir Banerjee, of PondyCAN. A Citizen Action Group who has brought a local beach back to life and worked to come up with solutions for coastal erosion. ‘On the coast, when we see a beach, we think it’s just a static heap of sand. Actually, it’s not a static heap, it’s like a river of sand. It keeps moving in one direction or the other, depending on the monsoons,’ reminds Probir. It is a connection he also understands as part of BOBLME, which looks at the Bay of Bengal as a whole. Including the fisheries and coastal life of eight nations (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand). As co-founder of Shuddham, he has also helped execute a neighborhood-wide waste management project in Puducherry. 

Sonal Dugar on life on the waterfront, in an audio chat with Probir Banerjee. Part of Issue 15 of Open Axis, on path-breaking Indians on the frontlines of climate change. 

Podcast: 15 min  

Questions asked in order of appearance 

  1.  Hello, Mr. Banerjee. It’s a great pleasure to speak with you today. How are you doing?
  2. You co-founded PondyCAN Pondicherry’s Citizens Action Network, an NGO committed to preserving and enhancing the natural, social, cultural, and spiritual environment? Could you tell us a little more about what PondyCAN does?
  3. I’m interested to know what the situation is like, what difficulties, if at all, did you face while funding projects such as these?
  4. I’m really intrigued by the one school one pond project (OSOP) that nourished 600 water bodies in Puducherry. I’m interested to know what inspired you to be a part of that project?
  5. Okay, now I’d like to switch gears a bit. I’d like to talk about the documentary, “India’s Disappearing Beaches- A Wake Up Call”, produced for PondyCAN. Can you tell us what the aim of this documentary is?
  6. What caught my eye in the documentary was the mention of sand bypassing the beach nourishment system as methods to prevent coastal erosion. Could you tell our listeners what the systems are and how they work?
  7. I’d like to talk about your organization PondyCAN. On the website, it says PondyCAN aims to build a model to preserve Puducherry that focuses on and I quote, “decentralized development and environmental sustainability”. What does this mean exactly?
  8. In addition to this, you also co-founded Shuddham, a non-profit organization based in Puducherry, where residents were trained to segregate garbage. What was this process like?
  9. Mr. Banerjee, would you like to share some steps  people could take to protect our beaches?
  10. While our audience is listening to you, do you have any message for our listeners?

Sonal is a writer from New Delhi, India. She is currently majoring in Literature and minoring in Political Science and Creative Writing at Ashoka University.

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