In 2005, Gurunath Rane left behind an advertising job in Mumbai and moved to Malvan, a small town along the Konkan coast in Maharashtra, India, to pursue his calling. Passionate about protecting the environment and promoting sustainable tourism in Konkan, Rane pioneered efforts to clean up waste around the Sindhudurg Fort – a 17th century monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Now, Rane is president of Kille Sindhudurga Prernotsav Samitee, an NGO that aims to create awareness among locals and tourists to protect the heritage value of the fort and maintain the pristine ecosystem around it.
Sindhudurg was declared as the first tourism district in Maharashtra by the state government in 1997. However, Sindhudurg lives in the shadow of the success of the neighbouring state of Goa, an international tourism hotspot. The economic benefits of tourism activities are an attractive prospect. But the damages to the environment through unsustainable activities are visible in Goa and increasingly in Malvan as well. Around the Sindhudurg Fort in particular, unregulated scuba diving tours and more visitors than the site can handle, puts pressure on the rich biodiversity that is found in the region. The Sindhudurg partnership aims to drive tourism in a more sustainable manner and balance it with the economics.
In 2014, the NGO partnered with the Sindhudurg project, a joint partnership between the Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme, for a plastic-free campaign at Sindhudurg fort. The partnership provided funding for around 36,000 jute bags to be handed over to tourists visiting the Sindhudurg fort. The plastic-free campaign lasted for a period of 20 months and witnessed a footfall of over 2,80,000 tourists.
“Regular cleaning of the fort area is expensive. So, we started the jute bag practice. The idea was inspired by a similar practice in Sikkim where mountaineers would be given bags to collect waste,” describes Rane. A total of 48,000 plastic bottles, along with other plastic waste, were collected through the initiative. Most tourists have reacted positively to the initiative. Education is key in initiatives like this, stresses Rane. Awareness about the impact of plastic waste and an actionable solution for tourists to avoid littering has been important in the success of the initiative.
Rane’s efforts to clean up the 350-year-old fort have found resonance with other community members as well. Local scuba divers have started cleaning underwater waste around the fort. Local fishermen are also playing their part in helping with cleanup effort. When Rane is asked what drives him to take these efforts to protect the environment, he shrugs: “Someone has to do it.”