‘A young achiever makes his mark early in life’
Astal Anthony Tania, a resident of Uttan village in Thane district, is 16 years old. But he had already made a mark at just 13 when he took the lead in planting over 100 tree saplings in Uttan.
Aston recalls the circumstances which led up to his initiative: “In school, we learned about the harmful effects of global warming. Our teachers told us that children can do their bit for the environment by planting trees. My father too informed me that the government will provide tree saplings to anyone who wants it.”
Astal lives in an area where pollution of the sea coast and dumping of waste has caused serious environmental and health problems like dengue and malaria. These issues were also discussed in the Bal Sansad (children’s parliament) in Uttan of which Astal is a member.
It was in the course of these discussions that Astal proposed that the parliament, then comprising 30 children, should plant tree saplings on June 5, 2016, to mark World Environment Day. The parliament agreed and Astal enlisted the help of his father to write a letter to the government authorities and request for saplings. The request was granted and on 4th June 2016 trucks arrived in Utan, bearing 150 saplings. The children’s parliament met the same evening and decided to plant saplings the next day at a church in Uttan and surrounding areas. The unused saplings were distributed to children to plant near their homes.
Astal is proud that 80-90 of the 150 saplings given to them have survived. For him, planting the saplings meant moving a step ahead from just discussing problems to taking remedial actions. The children’s parliament was formed in July 2015 with help from the Centre for Social Action (CSA) and started its activities by holding discussions on child rights and local issues.
“In the course of just one year, the parliament became stronger because we no longer just sat and listened. We started participating in street plays on the cleanliness of the sea coast, child marriage and communal harmony. We also held interactions with local ministers.”
The parliament intends to take more collective action. Astal is concerned about the dumping ground in Uttan, where garbage from neighboring villages and Mumbai city is dumped. “When the rains come, the garbage is carried along and spreads all over. This brings diseases and foul smells. People also dump garbage in the creek and when the creek water meets the sea, it affects the fish which die. Thus the fish catch has also declined,” Astal says, demonstrating his understanding of the interplay of environmental issues.
The children of the parliament have met their local MLA and discussed concerns of the cleanliness of the coast, creeks and hospitals. During these meetings, they take necessary photos and data, if available, to strengthen their demands. The MLA has promised the children tankers for water supply. The parliament also visited a hospital to check if essential medicines and vaccines were in stock. ‘Awareness picnics’ have been conducted to the police station and post office and knowledge sessions on the Constitution of India have also been held.
Astal is eager about forthcoming activities too. The parliament plans to do a survey of literacy levels in Uttan. “Child labor happens in this area and we see that migrant children from other states work in tea shops and small hotels. These children should be in school,” he says. Four committees have been formed in the parliament- on education, health, finance, and environment. Astal, being the oldest, leads the parliament and its committees.
Asked about the sources of his civic awareness, Astal states that he has always been interested in school extracurricular activities and church activities. His parents encourage his endeavors. “They are happy about my participation in state and national level events on child rights. I am also more confident,” he says.
Though he wants to be a genetic engineer, Astal is inspired by an initiative of street children in Delhi who started a newspaper. He too wants to start a newspaper for children, complete with a team of reporters and editors.