PLASTIC OCEAN To Indian Ocean – Read the Awe-Inspiring story of one Female Politician who is transforming our Waters

Heard of MercyKutty Amma? No?

Well she is a minister in the current Kerala Govt. since she won in the State Elections of 2016. Today she is also known for her Govt. initiative – Suchitwa Sagaram or the Clean Sea Project at Kollam.

What is Suchitwa Sagaram, one may ask?

Suchitawa Sagaram is a project implemented in August 2017 that uses the co-operation of fisherwomen to help reduce the plastic waste in the Indian Ocean to a certain extent.

Plastic waste in the Indian Ocean?

Every day in the course of their routine daily fishing expeditions, the men used to cast their fishing nets in the deep sea and with fish they also caught plastic waste of considerable proportions in the process. Till now they used to remove the fish and dump the waste back in the water. Not anymore!

The Fisheries Minister of Kerala, MercyKutty Amma upon hearing of this, struck upon a brilliant idea. This small effort could be converted into a major initiative if the Govt. involved itself in this wasteful exercise and gave it a turnaround with a planned effort that would involve the fishing community, the govt. and other members of society in helping to reduce the plastic menace in the sea to the extent possible. Thus the Suchitwa Sagaram or the Clean Sea Pilot Project was kick started at Kollam.

“The public should realise water bodies are not meant for waste dumping. The presence of waste, especially plastic refuse has resulted in the decline of fish wealth. We have successfully implemented the project in Kollam. This will be extended to Kochi soon,” she said.

The Suchitwa Sagaram project

What gave Mercykutty Amma the idea to launch it? She had heard about the netting of waste with the fish they caught in it and re-dumping of the same minus the fish back into the water. It was the possibility of their effort being put to good use that gave her the idea that it was worth giving it a try, just to see if it could be an attempt worth the while. Observing that the catch of waste accumulated to more than a ton within a week or two, the plan took shape. Some 28 members of the fishermen community with 26 of them women were roped in for the initial exercise. From August 2017 till June 2018 they accumulated 25 tons of plastic waste.

“So far, they have removed 10 tonnes of plastic bags and plastic bottles and 15 tonnes of discarded nets, plastic ropes and other plastic items from the sea,” Johnson Premkumar, programme officer for training with the Suchitwa initiative told a UN website.

“Even though it is a small group of fishermen, they have freed the sea from 25 tonnes of plastic waste,” he added.

Imagine that if 25 tonnes of plastic waste could be removed by 28 fishermen in ten months, what could be the quantum that was existing below the water and how much more could be removed in a major initiative roping in very many more in the project.

Kerala, has a 600 km long coastline. With the wholesome participation of the people who would be most affected by it - the fisherfolk, the project would gather momentum all along the coastline through the very people inhabiting the region, with support from the govt., NGOs and other interested parties. The success story of Kollam was heard to be taken up in Kochi next.

“The public should realise water bodies are not meant for waste dumping. The presence of waste, especially plastic refuse has resulted in the decline of fish wealth. The Suchitwa Sagaram project will help to reduce the plastic menace in the sea to a considerable extent. We have successfully implemented the project in Kollam. This will be extended to Kochi soon,” she said.

What about the plastic that is accumulated?

The accumulated plastic collected at the fishing harbor, finds its way into a plastic shredding machine set up for that purpose. The plastic would then be processed to make plastic beads that are used in the making of good roads that have high resistance to weathering. "We will make plastic beads out of them to use in road construction. In harbours also we will set up collection points. Our boats carry stickers to create awareness against the menace,”

 Peter Mathias, the President of Kollam District Boat Operators Association said.

The initiative currently engages five trawlers and 28 people from the local fishing community – all but two of whom are women. The fisher folk will collect and bring ashore the plastic materials netted during fishing under the project.

The tale of plastic put to good use

Every one of India’s 1.3 billion people uses an average 11kg of plastic each year. After being used, much of this plastic finds its way to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, where it can maim and kill fish, birds and other marine wildlife.

There are more than 34,000km of plastic roads in India, mostly in rural areas. More than half of the roads in the southern state of Tamil Nadu are plastic. This road surface is increasingly popular as it makes the roads more resilient to India’s searing heat. The melting point for plastic roads is around 66°C, compared to 50°C for conventional roads.

Using recycled plastic is a cheaper alternative to conventional plastic additives for road surfaces. Every kilometre of plastic road uses the equivalent of a million plastic bags, saving around one tonne of asphalt. Each kilometre costs roughly 8% less than a conventional road.

Apart from that the collecting of plastic for the making of the roads involves plastic pickers to collect the plastic waste. They sell their plastic to the many small plastic shredding businesses that have suddenly mushroomed looking to the business prospects of making plastic beads.

Kerala would be making use of the same principle – the collection of plastic from the Suchitwa Sagaram project as well as that collected on land for the making of plastic roads in all rural and urban areas – both for the cleaning-up of the environment as  well for enjoying the travel on smoother roads.

J.Mercykutty Amma - the woman behind Suchitwa Sagaram

Born to Smt. Jainamma and Sri Francis on 30 September, 1955, Mercykutty  did her post graduation in Malayalam as a Literature subject and completed her LLB course.  She is married to Sri B. Thulaseedhara Kurup, the President, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Kollam district.

She began her journey as a student activist enrolled in the Students Federation of India (SFI) during 1974. Her stint as SFI office bearer continued while at Fatima Matha National College, Kollam and Sree Narayana College, Kollam. She later continued to become SFI State Vice President and All India Vice President up to 1985.

Holding various positions in CITU, Communist Party of India (Marxist) she also became District Committee President of Matsyathozhilali (Fishermen) Federation, Kollam upto 2012 and the State Vice President in the period 1987 to 2005.  In her career she has been head of several bodies and organizations of note in the state.

First elected to Kerala Legislative Assembly in 1987, re-elected in 1996 she made it a third time in 2016 and became Minister in charge of the portfolios of Fisheries, Harbour Engineering and Cashew Industry, a post that she still holds.

Her life has been one of achievement and positivity in whatever she has taken up. She has been recipient of several awards