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Dirty Work

Goan resident Clinton Vaz has been working hard for two decades to instil a sense of civic responsibility in the community, having caught the attention of the local government when he was in his early twenties. Joanna Lobo converses with the hands-on eco-warrior, who is tackling the mounting garbage problem in India’s favourite holiday destination by changing its system of waste management

Joanna Lobo

On the surface, Clinton Vaz, 37, seems like an ordinary man. He lives with his wife, Emma, in Colva, a coastal village in South Goa. He has a nine-to-five job and gets weekends off. He loves travelling and working on farms. He is tall and of slight build, with a shy smile, and wears baggy pants, or jeans and T-shirts. But if you dig beneath, you’ll find that there’s more to him than meets the eye — just like the cause that he champions. For the last 20 years, Vaz has been the face of Goa’s garbage movement, working with municipalities, educational institutions and individuals to help reduce the mounting trash problem.

Vaz’s journey began by accident. When he was a young student of 19, his family moved from the bustling city of Margao to the quieter coastal Benaulim. He soon found that the village had no waste management system. “There were no bins or trucks for the disposal of garbage. Neighbours just told us to chuck it into the fields or river, so I realised that I had to handle things myself,” he says.

He spoke to waste pickers and gave them around 25 per cent of the garbage from his home. A composting course helped him reduce the waste produced by another 50 per cent. Around the same time, he teamed up with a group of Swedish students working on an environmental awareness project in Goa, which led to the formation of the Benaulim Environment Trust (BET). He visited Sweden in 2003, on a three month study tour, and buoyed by his research on waste management, Vaz soon began to share this knowledge with neighbours and friends, both online and offline.

“That’s when I got the call.” It was 2005. The call came from the then municipal commissioner of Panaji. The state capital is popular for its views of the Mandovi River, the colourful Indo-Portuguese homes in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas, and its heritage structures. It is the site for most of the state’s cultural festivals and events, including the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), and is an administrative and business hub.

As such, Panaji’s daily touristic footfall always outnumbers the residents. More people means more trash. Back then, the city was dumping its waste into a landfill in the nearby village of Curca, and the wall of untreated garbage collapsed onto the village’s land, seeping into the ground and groundwater.

The citizens of Panaji didn’t know what to do with their waste, and they sought the help of the then 24-year old. “I was overwhelmed,” says Vaz. “My theory had worked when applied in my home and neighbourhood, but I hadn’t tested it at a citywide level. However, I realised pretty quickly that it was something that could easily be scaled up.”

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April - May 2019

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