Column: An Eco-Friendly Option

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: There is some good news for environment-conscious people from Sambalpur where the district administration has decided to encourage the use of sal leaf products as a substitute for plastic disposables. Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been engaged to augment the production of sal leaf plates, in particular, as they are in high demand.

Efforts are being made by the administration to ensure that the prices of these SHG-produced items are less than those being manufactured by private entrepreneurs. The project, according to one newspaper report, was started on an experimental basis nearly six months ago as a collaboration between District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) and Forest department. Now the administration is planning to scale up production and set up good marketing channels.

While forest department has provided equipment and training for the project DRDA has mobilised the SHG members and marketing will be their joint effort. Currently, more than 100 members from 22 SHGs, drawn from two villages under Rengali block of the district, are engaged in plate making.

The women trained by the forest department are manufacturing five different types of sal leaf products including bowls and trays which can be used on occasions like festival gatherings. There is no restriction on the number of plates or other items that a woman can make in a day. So the income of an SHG member engaged in the job would depend on the amount of labour she puts in.

This is an excellent initiative considering that sal leaf plates not only offer an eco-friendly substitute for plastic but they can also be a reliable source of income for SHG members. What is truly encouraging is that more and more district administrations are promoting the use of sal leaf products, another example being Keonjhar where officials took a decision a few months ago that ‘ khali’, as these leaf plates are popularly known in Odisha, would replace plastic plates.

Khali has been a part of socio-cultural life of people in Odisha, especially in the Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj belt where sal leaf plates are used during community feasts organised to mark festive occasions like ‘pujas’. In the rural areas, food even during marriage feasts is served on leaf plates which are easy to dispose of and completely environment-friendly as they are biodegradable.

However, the arrival of plastic took its toll on the ‘khali’ tradition and a part of the rural economy based on the sal leaf trade suffered badly. The majority at the receiving end comprised the tribals who have been using leaf plates since generations.

Sal leaves were a major source of income for tribals in districts like Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Kandhamal, and Nayagarh for deacdes. Plates and cups made out of these leaves after primary level processing provided livelihood security to hundreds and thousands of tribals who inhabit forest villages. So the urban bias towards plastic harmed the tribal economy no end.

It is heartening that with increased emphasis on the protection of environment and the consequent ban on the use of certain types of plastic sal leaf products are back in favour. The more the government promotes their use the better.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)