Environmental Stewardship

By Gregory Jackmauh



Honoring Arunachala – Girivalam Seva Project (GVS)

In 2014, our partner Shanthimalai Trust installed waste bins and began collecting rubbish along the Girivalam route that pilgrims walk each year around the sacred Mountain Arunachala. GVS was an immediate way to improve the environment and influence how local trash was managed. The program was groundbreaking. Now the millions of pilgrims who go around the Mountain each year have begun to use trash containers instead of throwing trash on the ground. The roads and surrounding area are increasingly clean, and other local initiatives have been inspired by this one.

The project is on-going. In April 2022, on Chithra Pournami Day, an annual Hindu festival observing practices of cleansing (washing away sins of the previous year), the Tiruvannamalai District Collector arranged for 1,400 volunteers to join the regular GVS crew in picking up garbage along the pilgrimage route.

New Arunachala Environmental Care Project (AECP)

Dr. Rajasekar (Shanthimalai Trustee and environmental engineer) and Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi (Trustee and General Manager) head a new initiative featuring an integrated group of programs that aim to work in coordination with local authorities to keep the area “clean and green”. This is in step with the national government’s recent initiative throughout the whole of India to make protecting the environment a priority at all levels of government and society.

The new Training Center promotes increased environmental awareness and offers workshops on using natural resources responsibly and sustainably. 

In June, two 2-day workshops on solid waste management were held for 58 sanitation workers and managers from Tiruvannamalai and the surrounding districts. Topics such as organic waste composting and principles behind the Biodigester were also covered.

An Integrated Model

Shanthimalai plans to create a 5-acre, fully organic model farm using agroforestry principles. That means that farming and forestry are integrated to create a healthy, sustainable, and productive balance.

Shanthimalai hopes to grow 500 different varieties of native, drought-resistant trees, with the goal of planting thousands of trees in the immediate area. 

The component parts of this model are as follows:

Plant Nursery: Shanthimalai hopes to grow 500 different varieties of native, drought-resistant trees, with the goal of planting thousands of trees in the immediate area in collaboration with the district administration. In the first quarter of 2022, Shanthimalai staff members and their friends donated 600 trees which they planted themselves.

Herbal Garden: The medicinal use of herbs has been practiced in South India for thousands of years. Herbs will be grown organically and sold as remedies and as plant starters for local gardens.

The Meenakshi Pond for Aquaculture, Irrigation and Well Improvement: Water conservation and management is critical to agricultural sustainability. The pond, measuring 100’ x 70’, has already been dug and prepared to collect rainwater which will be used for irrigation. Fish and lotus plants will be cultivated in the pond to facilitate cleansing the water of pollutants before the water is used on the organic crops.
In addition, area wells will be inspected to determine whether deepening them and/or adding silt filtration will improve their reliability and overall health.

Biomanure: To reduce emissions generated during the manufacturing process of chemical fertilizers, Shanthimalai is promoting the usage of bio manure for organic farming. A battery-operated vehicle was purchased for transporting waste, reducing the consumption of diesel.

Biodigester:  The existing bio-digester has been revamped, converting organic waste into organic Biofertilizer and Biogas. Processing organic waste in this way completes the life cycle, returning nutrients back to the soils and providing fuel for cooking. 

School Involvement: The principles of environmental stewardship are best learned in early education as fundamental to a healthy and productive life. Students will be given opportunities to learn how to plant trees, care for indigenous trees and plants, and to learn how important each individual is in restoring balance between the needs of people and the needs of their environment.Exhibitions and drawing competitions are being held regularly to promote environmental awareness.

Yoga Meditation Center at Shanthimalai Trust: The center will institute environmentally conscious measures: 

  • Solar power for all houses
  • Solar-powered geo-thermal heating/cooling system
  • Conversion of all toilets to SMART, Water-Saver toilets

Modernization of filtration and recycling of the waste stream entering the septic systems to remove potential contaminants from the groundwater and recycle usable waste

 Green Champion Award 

This year Shanthimalai Trust received Tamil Nadu’s Green Champion Award for its longstanding, inspiring service to the community in the area of environmental stewardship. The award also recognized Dr. Rajasekar’s outstanding contribution for his training programs on solid waste management for sanitation workers in the state of Tamil Nadu.

As part of this honor, the Trust received a cash prize of one lakh (about $1,300). With this, and with generous donations from Europe, Shanthimalai’s far-reaching program for preserving holy Arunachala and its surroundings is off to an impressive start.

Shanthimalai Trust has set out an ambitious agenda for 2022 and the years to come. Hopefully, the mission of Environmental Stewardship that Shanthimalai models will spread across India and beyond.

Please consider supporting this far-reaching initiative to protect and care for the environment in our effort to help mitigate global climate instability.

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