An engineer and Socialpreneur by profession. A marathoner and a traveller. Ripudaman Bevli is famed for creating the Litter Free India and Ploggers of India movements.
“In 2016 I started India’s first run-and-cleanup movement. While jogging and training early mornings, the trash and litter all around bothered me. Initially called ‘My City My Responsibility’ – before the term Plogging was conceived – the non-profit organisation was then renamed and transformed to the snazzier ‘Ploggers of India’. We still don’t have the funds to invest in an office space. Nor do we intend to invest anytime in the near future. All the funds generated are being spent on growing the movement (mostly bootstrapped),” introduces the 35-year-old founder.
From starting alone seven years ago, Ploggers of India have almost a crore of the country’s populace participating in his Litter Free India movement. The members’ profile ranges from 4 years to over 80 years old and comprises people from every section of society. A success story in itself!
The Swachh Bharat movement of the Honorable Prime Minister, and the Father of Nation’s words ‘Everyone needs to be their own scavenger’, plus several mountain and beach cleanups proved inspirational. Noting a major void in the cleanup of household waste, led to awareness and plogging drives within localities, communities, and educational institutions. The cleaning-up process has started and is proving inspirational for everyone involved. But needs to still reach out to a lot more.
‘My high moment was when my nieces came home beaming when they saw my name in their GK books as the ‘Plogging Ambassador of India’. They felt so proud of their chachu! From being an avid quizzer to becoming a GK fact was an amazing sensation and bought a sense of achievement, a sense of responsibility,” he reminisces.
Ripudaman is a ‘doer’. “I can only lead by action. Initially, it didn’t bother me about people not joining me. It made me ponder over why a community is critical to make self- and collective movements like these a success. Realised, foremost, there was a societal stigma around picking up litter. To change their thinking, I led by example. By telling people ragpickers should not be called ‘Kachrewalas’, as we are the real ‘Kachrewalas’ who litter. They are ‘Safaiwalas, and should be applauded. That got people thinking! Next, I was questioned by my family and friends. I responded by continuing to work – making picking trash the coolest thing to do! And had fun in the bargain being chased by dogs and monkeys when I was on their terrain, the garbage dumps! Honestly, that’s when I wished more people were doing this clean-up with me! Primarily getting them to join was a major challenge. Mine is still work-in-progress. It has ‘just started’. It is a long journey to make India Litter Free. I want every Indian to dream my crazy dream – and make it a reality,” he concedes.
When asked for some statistics, Ripudaman responds, “Initially we did not keep track of the collections because work on the ground is far more important to me than updating numbers on social media. In 2019 we ran RElan Run to Make India Litter Free campaign. An unprecedented campaign when I ran across and cleaned 50 cities in two months covering 1000 kms on foot. Since then this campaign has had over 600 cleanups in 110+ cities and picked up over 1000 tons of litter countrywide. Our constantly growing chain since inception, has city and regional communities that want to join us. This is most encouraging,” he reveals.
In March 2021, the ‘Ride For Change’ campaign was going well. In the six weeks, Ripudaman cycled from Delhi to several cities including Dehradun and Palampur. Hundreds of people on their bicycles joined alongside in these cities. Cumulatively, 26,000 kms. were cycled, eight tons of carbon emissions were saved and two tons of little picked up. But then the covid pandemic hit hard.
“I was in isolation for a month. Then there were losses in the family, covid took a lot! The rest of 2021 is a blur from there. I focused on personal healing and mental health. Went on yoga retreats and spent some time in Rishikesh. By October 2021, my health was much better and I was running again. But then another unexplained episode of my ‘blacking out’ happened in December 2021. My health got worse. For a month, I could not get off the bed. Visits to the hospitals, several checks, MRIs, etc. followed. I did recover and by March 2022, I was able to walk again and was fully recovered. Things were looking up as covid concerns had gone down,” he says about the setback to his health.
July 2022 brought in the stringent plastic ban by GoI. The Ploggers team led a week long campaign RACE – Reduction Awareness Circularity Engagement with the UP Govt. Joining in were Government and Municipal corporations and more than a few lakh people participated in all major cities of UP. All sections of society including schools and colleges were engaged in plogging, cleanups and trash workouts. From the marketplaces in Lucknow, to parks in Prayagraj, to Ganga ghats in Varanasi various landscapes were touched. Ploggers acted as the bridge between people and Government. Awareness of the plastic ban and alternatives were created, incuding providing aplatform for people to express their concerns regarding lack of alternatives, or expensive alternatives to plastic. These concerns were duly noted by Ripudaman’s team on the ground and passed on to the relevant authorities. The campaign was concluded with major conclave where Entrepreneurs, NGOs from across India participated in and discussed how to make the plastic ban work in UP.
Next, in September 2022, several beach cleanups were organised with the Tamil Nadu Government. Several NGOs and youth forums participated in these activities. Through these, several specific Chennai-based movements started and have since been actively involved in cleanups there.
A career jump for Ripudaman came along with the milestone G20 Year of 2023. “The upward turn included my being made the Ambassador of Delhi by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). We launched our first campaign in January, giving ourselves 100 days to beat plastic. Under this, all 250 wards of Delhi have aggressively participated through several activities – cleanups for RWAs and market associations, workshops with schools and colleges, mobilisation of NGOS etc. One of the most satisfying tangible results was clearing 250 illegal garbage dumps in the city – a one dump location per ward. The first phase of this campaign was concluded on 22nd 2023 Earth Day. As part of the next phase, we plan on adding Trash Workout as part of the curriculum for a total of almost 1500 Delhi Government and MCD schools,” he informs.
Reward have come along in the form of the honorary title of Plogging Ambassador of India. “Life came full circle for me upon being invited by the GoI to flag off the FIT India Plogging run on Gandhiji’s 150th Jayanti, 2nd Oct 2019. Along with the then Sports Minister (Kiren Rijiju), I flagged off the run from the ramparts of the Indira Gandhi Stadium, New Delhi. Close to 40 lakh people participated across 65,000 locations pan-India. Also mentionable is the induction in the Golden Book of World Records for the longest plogging run of 50 kilometers in nine hours 15 mins at Kota, Rajasthan (2020). There are a series of recent recognitions,” says the first FIT India Ambassador.
The emotional side of the Plogman of India is apparent when he speaks of his mother. “She has been my inspiration. I believe what ever good there is in me, is inherited from her. True to her name Ranbir Kaur, she has fought every battle in her life with honesty and perseverance and has never given up. As a single parent, from the start, my younger sister Jasmine Kaur and I have been blessed to have found a Father and Mother in one person. And that is why I decided to add my mother’s maiden family name to my surname Bevli. It feels complete now – Ripudaman Bevli.”
Looking ahead, Ripudaman, as a Fit India Ambassador, plans “monthly Plogging drives across 700+ districts in India. Next, to work with authorities to create environment awareness in schools by including practical activities in the curriculum. And lastly, personally, my mission this year will be to create maximun awareness countrywide through a Plastic Upvaas – on foot a la Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, my message to my 140 crore fellow Indians. Each of us must take the pledge to not litter. That will be our contribution to our country, our India, our Mother Earth,” he signs off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amita Sarwal is Delhi Correspondent at Inside Outside, Mumbai & Roving Editor, Cross Section Media, New Delhi