Bhaga Singh, a tea seller from Kumbhalgarh, Rajasthan, offers tea and samosas in exchange for plastic waste to promote a plastic-free district.
Near Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan, Bhaga Singh’s tea stall reads, “Give us plastic waste, drink tea in return.”
Through this initiative, the tea stall owner is taking humble steps towards making Kumbhalgarh plastic free. “I started doing this so that people see that even a chai wala (tea seller) is taking steps to limit plastic usage. So, I collect the plastic waste from my customers and give it to the waste collectors. I do not do this to earn a profit,” the 31-year-old tells The Better India.
At the stall, he has a taraju (balance) to weigh the plastic waste brought in by the customers. Proportional to the measured weight, he serves them tea and samosa in paper cups and plates. For instance, Bhaga gives a cup of tea in exchange for a kg of plastic waste.
The inspiration behind the initiative
Located near Aravali hills, Rajsamand district is home to Kumbhalgarh Fort, which has a 36-km long wall, claimed to be the second longest wall after the Great Wall of China. The fort is a World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.
Bhaga lives in Kelwara village, located close to the Kumbalgarh Fort, which serves as the central market for tourists. This has increased the usage of plastic in the area while generating more waste.
He says that there was waste perpetually scattered throughout the streets and the unsegregated waste was usually dumped in open areas. Hence, handling plastic waste had become a menace. Kelwara village alone generated more than 2,000 kg of waste every month with plastic waste accounting for 527 kg of the total monthly waste.
But, things started changing in December 2022 when the district became the centre of attraction during the G20 Summit. Officer Bhuvaneshwar was deputed as the district coordinator to welcome tourists and world leaders attending the summit. So, he decided to take immediate steps to clean the district and launched a plastic-free campaign in Rajsamand.
“As part of the campaign, I visited every shop in the area to refrain shopkeepers from throwing plastic waste in the open. It was during this time that I came across Bhaga Singh’s tea stall where he had mentioned that he wouldn’t give tea to those who didn’t have a shauchalaya (toilet) in their home,” says the officer.
Back then, Bhaga was raising awareness about the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Campaign. He would not serve tea to people who did not have toilets or did not use the toilets in their homes. “This was back in 2017. With this, I have helped set up toilets in 100–150 homes in my village,” he recalls.
Hailing from a poor background, he could not study beyond Class 8 and has been selling tea and samosa for the past 12 years. He manages to earn up to Rs 15,000 a month and supports his family of five — a disabled father and sister, his wife and two children.
But his difficult circumstances did not stop him from raising social awareness — first by building an open-defecation-free village and now, a plastic-free district.
Bhaga Singh with district officials.
After seeing an already motivated Bhaga, Bhuvaneshwar saw an opportunity to include him in the plastic-free campaign. “We motivated him to join us and suggested that he give breakfast in proportion to the plastic he gets,” adds the officer, who has received awards and recognition for his efforts in rural development. He has even set up a recovery resource centre to segregate dry and wet waste in the district.
He continues, “This is a small step. There is a long way to make Kumbhalgarh plastic free.”
This initiative was launched last month during G20 Summit in December 2022. It was inaugurated by Indian international cricketer Ravi Bishnoi. The impressed cricketer set the ball rolling by offering plastic waste in exchange for a cup of tea.
“It is wonderful to get recognition from cricketers like Ravi ji,” he smiles.
Apart from the cricketer, the tea stall owner has received recognition from the District Collector of Rajsamand Nilabh Saxena, Chief Executive Officer Zila Parishad (district council) Rajsamand Utsah Choudhary, Additional Chief Executive Officer Zila Parishad Bhuvaneshwar Singh Chauhan among others.
Since the launch, Bhaga has collected up to 50 kg of plastic waste. He says many people have stopped scattering plastic waste now, and why not? They get free breakfast in exchange.