Umanath Shenai (“Shantu”), who is popularly known in and
around India’s commercial capital of Mumbai (Bombay) as the “Garbage
Guru,” is successfully demonstrating “earthworm technology” for
recycling and sustainable ecological re-development.
Umanath Shenai’s idea has matured from a mere waste disposal program
based on the recycling of organic waste into vermi-compost, to
a pioneering rejuvenation program, which literally re-creates
soil. Quite simply, Shantharam is demonstrating how deep burrowing
earthworms are capable of replacing soil in one year that would
take 200 years to re-generate naturally. His idea is to use these
earthworms to convert all forms of wasted organic matter into
usable bio-fertilizer or multi-purpose sanitation products. Not
only relieving cities of the threat of epidemics and the high
costs of waste management, Shantharam’s program will also help
re-vitalize fallow and denuded land, supply organic fertilizer
to rural areas and insulate village economies from market instabilities.
His aim now is to promote this creative alternative to the present
systems of urban waste disposal throughout India.
within cities are the cause of a whole series of problems: dirt,
disease, stink, epidemics, air, water and land pollution; and
breeding grounds for scavenger creatures like mosquitoes, rats,
cockroaches, street dogs, etc. That India is on the brink of an
environmental emergency is reflected by the recent outbreak of
the plague in Delhi, which is known to have been due directly
to organic pollution. A greater and long-term potential impact
is the loss of biodiversity in the form of medicinal plants and
bird and animal species.
Mumbai alone the 6,000 tons of garbage that is produced daily, whose
organic content is as high as 60 per cent, is customarily dumped
in distant sites and land fills which are fast filling up. As much
as 1,000 tons of this daily waste remains uncollected and finds
its way into storm drains meant for rain water or lies around in
slums. Furthermore, methane gas created at the dumps causes fires
that burn, creating pollutants like dioxins, furans and heavy metals
in very fine forms. 25 percent of children in Mumbai have respiratory
ailments, most of whom live near dumpsites.
realized from the start that first he would have to let people know
what he was doing and second, he would have to institutionalize
his project. He managed to get extensive media coverage to show
that his idea applied on any scale, from an individual or industry
to a community or municipality. This in turn prompted several requests
for his project to be brought into various areas. He soon had 40
different micro-projects functioning under his direction.
order to start the institutionalization process, Shantu initiated
partnerships with the Indian Army and Navy and the Bombay Municipal
Corporation. Bombay Municipal Corporation’s Versova Pumping Station
now collects and vermi-processes two to three tons of market waste
into bio-fertilizer every day. A nursery where plants are grown
and a former waste plot where bananas and papayas now grow are biological
indicators of the success of the project. At present, the principal
participants number about 30,000 residents within one municipality,
which contains 42 housing colonies, two slums, one school, a hospital,
shops and markets.
has successfully demonstrated a viable chain that leads to sustainable
resource management for cities. He has adopted a systemic approach
to switch from end-of-the-pipeline solutions to treatment at the
source, an approach that often saves money and yields more feasible
solutions to difficult problems. His idea is simple and inexpensive,
can be carried out by lay persons and taught and practiced in a
relatively short period of time. Moreover, it is truly effective.
He believes that earthworm technology could be applied to create
organic farms, recycle water, save forests and create safer and
his city-wide demonstration projects in Mumbai, Shantharam has proved
that it is possible for cities to be eco-friendly and environmentally
conscientious by converting urban waste products into bio-fertilizer
which is richer in nutrients than standard compost. Shantharam is
now set to build an organization and network that will further spreads
his idea and applications in other cities and towns and develop
newer applications of the technology. He is also working on preparing
kits and packages which can be easily tried, tested and used by
spent his childhood in a rural area of the northeastern state of
Assam, Shantharam moved with his family to Bombay when he was ten
years old and was deeply disturbed by the urban squalor and impersonality
of the city. Even as a child he was unable to accept the detachment
city dwellers had from the earth and the entire natural environment,
and that has stayed with him into adulthood.
by his own personal determination to address this situation, Shantharam
abandoned his flourishing career as a self-made electronics engineer.
Utilizing the valuable business sense and contracting experience
that his electronics career gave him, he has now successfully demonstrated
his idea, especially with the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Shantharam
feels he is moving from the experimental stage in his career life
cycle. He hopes to carry his idea to the next level and have optimal
impact with this project in which he so strongly believes.