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Page last updated at 23:20 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 00:20 UK

India's 'green and clean' village

Bridge leading into the village of Mawlynnong
The village has set a standard of cleanliness much admired throughout India

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Meghalaya

A small village in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya has become the envy of its neighbours.

Large crowds of visitors have been thronging to the village curious to find out why Mawlynnong has earned the reputation for being arguably the cleanest and best educated in India - all its residents can read and write and each house has a toilet.

That is no mean achievement in a country that is still struggling to educate its population and address basic water and sanitation issues.

About 90km (55 miles) from the state capital Shillong and barely 4km (2.4 miles) from the Bangladeshi border, Mawlynnong is much loved by its inhabitants who work hard to keep it clean.

Bamboo dustbins

It is five in the morning and pouring with rain. But that does not deter a group of volunteers in the village from rising early to sweep the roads. It is a process that is repeated several times a day.

Mawlynnong village headman Thomlin Khongthohrem
There is a fine imposed by the village council for anybody found to be throwing litter around or cutting trees
Mawlynnong village headman Thomlin Khongthohrem

"Some cleaners have been hired by the village council to sweep the roads - but many villagers take turns to make sure they are swept several times a day because it is not possible to pay so many people," says young volunteer Henry Khyrrum.

The streets are all dotted with dustbins made of bamboo. Every piece of litter and almost every leaf that has fallen from a tree is immediately discarded.

Plastic bags are completely banned and all waste disposal is environmentally friendly. Rubbish is thrown into a pit dug in a forest near the village where it is left to turn into compost.

The villagers here say that lessons in hygiene start in school so that children can be taught from an early age how to keep their surroundings clean and green.

Mawlynnong is one of the wettest parts of the country - and while many parts of India are suffering under drought-like conditions this year, the south-western monsoon has not disappointed the north-east.

While the supply of clean water and sanitation is a huge problem in India's teeming cities, it is an even bigger challenge for the authorities in the country's villages where these facilities are almost non-existent.

Keeping it clean now comes naturally to most people here. The village headman says the village council - or Darbar - maintains very strict discipline.

'Global warming'

"There is a fine imposed by the village council for anybody found to be throwing litter around or cutting trees. You see, the fine is just $1 for each such offence committed. But due to the humiliation and embarrassment that our self-respecting people feel at being fined, they make sure to follow the rules," says village headman Thomlin Khongthohrem.

Child collecting litter in Mawlynnong
Children are taught to collect litter at an early age

"Besides, the council carries out strict inspections of the sanitation facilities in each house.

"Workshops are also being organised to make people aware of the dangers from global warming."

Experts say Mawlynnong, like the rest of the state, has a very effective local governance system. The society is matrilineal - meaning that land is passed down through the female side of families - making women economically more powerful.

Mawlynnong's reputation for being clean and green has been well documented, and its Khasi tribal inhabitants are known to be worshippers of nature.

Their reverence for nature is seen by some as an effective way of preserving the forest cover.

Thambor Lyngdoh, in charge of a sacred community forest in a neighbouring village, says the while it is true that many Khasi people are "nature worshippers" the drive for cleanliness and education is not about faith only.

"Even today we are very strict about how the forest can be used," he says.

"People are allowed to take whatever they need from the forest for their own use. But they cannot take anything more than that for any kind of commercial use. They are punished for any violation."

Local initiative

Mawlynnong's reputation for cleanliness has even earned it a place on the state's tourism map.

Sign in Mawlynnong
For the villagers, cleanliness is next to Godliness

Hundreds of visitors from all over India now visit the village throughout the year. Most of those visitors are impressed with what they see.

"This is the first time I have come to this place. I really want to congratulate the villagers who have made the place so beautiful and the cleanest in the continent. There is something special about the place. We just came to see why it has become so famous. It really is clean and you have to give them 10 out of 10 for that," says Sanjay Saraogi, a tourist from Shillong.

Another tourist, Euginea, says the rest of country should learn from Mawlynnong's experience.

"I have come to this village to see its cleanliness and I think everybody should follow the example of the villagers," she says

Mawlynnong's success is entirely driven by local initiative. It has been so successful that the state government has been prompted to promote eco-tourism in the area but the locals are resisting this.

"There is a fierce sense of self-determination among these people. There are certain rules they have followed traditionally. They do not want government to borrow ideas from outside and impose it on them," says Deepak Laloo, a member of the Meghalaya Tourism Development forum."

The villagers are treading a path that the rest of India should be keen to follow.



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