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A Retired Colonel And His Army Of Schoolchildren Give Sagar A Facelift

A Retired Colonel And His Army Of Schoolchildren Give Sagar A Facelift
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The large majority of us perceive the National Cadet Corps (NCC) to be a decorative formation without a specific purpose save parading schoolchildren in uniform on Republic Day in the Capital. While that assessment of the NCC may not be entirely accurate, to most students it's just another chore they have to put up with. It was the same for students in Sagar. That is, until Col (retd) K.L.K. Prasad came along.

As commanding officer of the 3 MP Signal Company (NCC), he could have gone about doing the same: boring parades and occasional outstation camps. But being a keen environmentalist, he had a specific purpose in mind - cleaning up the varsity town and educating the masses on the environment for their own benefit. His target was not, however, limited to using NCC cadets in isolation but through them to involve more than 50,000 schoolchildren in the district. "School students are the most energetic workforce we have if we can utilise and direct them. The NCC makes an effort to do that but it has its limitations. My idea is to use it to involve others as well," says Prasad. And how did he do it?

The first thing Prasad did after assuming charge in 1998 was to motivate the children to give up the use of plastics. It happened after local papers reported that 25 cows had died choking on polybags strewn all over the town. He took classes in which he made children aware about the harms that plastic bags could cause and provided them with literature to distribute among their neighbours. Later, he organised a mass awareness rally of a scale Sagar had never experienced. More than 50,000 children attended, led by the NCC band. On the way to the rally, children would approach shopkeepers with requests to give up polybags. It ended at the town square with a mass oath to give up polythene bags. Shopkeepers too took the pledge. The rally had such an impact that main markets of the town are now literally polythene-free and people use only paper bags.

Next, Prasad took up a project to replenish groundwater in and around the town. Groundwater levels had sunk by over 300 feet in an area which was once verdant. But gigantic mining operations led to felling of trees and the lowering of the water table. The rally and subsequent mass-contact campaigns taught Prasad that children could be most persuasive and people tired of lying politicians listened to them with a more open mind. He took up an abandoned well at the Garhakota rest house to demonstrate the percolation pit technique to schoolchildren. From digging up a three-metre deep pit near the well to filling it up with the right kind of stones and sand and making a drain to fill rainwater in it, children were taught how easy it was to harvest water. Right after the monsoons and through the summer of 1999, children saw for themselves how an abandoned well had been replenished. This year, the children have built such percolation pits for more than 500 wells to store rainwater. The only incentive Prasad gives is a Bhagirathi Certificate to a student who has been able to persuade at least 10 people to build a percolation pit.

Originally from Andhra Pradesh, Prasad retired from the army in 1998 and was keen to serve Sagar where he had spent a considerable amount of time as an officer living in the cantonment area. He had lived and experienced the difficulties of Sagar and concluded that only children could clean up the place as adults had become far too cynical to listen to any advice or contribute for a good cause. He treasures two letters he has received as acknowledgement of his pioneering work. One is from the principal of a government school and the other from the chowkidar of the Garhakota rest house.

Originally from Andhra Pradesh, Prasad retired from the army in 1998 and was keen to serve Sagar where he had spent a considerable amount of time as an officer living in the cantonment area. He had lived and experienced the difficulties of Sagar and concluded that only children could clean up the place as adults had become far too cynical to listen to any advice or contribute for a good cause. He treasures two letters he has received as acknowledgement of his pioneering work. One is from the principal of a government school and the other from the chowkidar of the Garhakota rest house.

If you wish to lend him a helping hand, contact Prasad at 3 MP Signal Company, Anand Nagar, Rajakhedi, Sagar. Phone 23531.

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