In a simple yet elegant move that gives a push to sustainability, two top officials of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr Sujith Kumar Bajpayee and Leena Nandan IAS, have come forward to adopt biodegradable visiting cards made out of water hyacinths, an invasive aquatic plant. This innovative initiative, spearheaded by Dr Nagendra Prabhu, Professor, and Head, Department of Zoology, Sanatana Dharma College Alappuzha, has garnered attention for its environmental benefits and set a precedent for sustainable practices within the Indian bureaucracy.
It was while attending a Wetlands Conservation workshop in Kochi in March that Dr Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, first came to know about the green initiatives. He stayed back and visited S D College the next day. The officer was amazed by numerous green innovative activities being initiated by the Centre for Research on Aquatic Resources (CRAR), a research lab, and Eichho Tech, a students’ Start-up venture primarily engaged in making home décor, stationery, and customized gifts using water hyacinth.
“We made a sample visiting card out of the pulp made from water hyacinth in a short time and presented it to him. The official was very much impressed. He asked us to make a bunch of visiting cards for him and his higher officer, Leena Nandan,” said Anoop Kumar V, Chief Executive Officer of Eichho Tech.
“Dr Sujith said he has travelled all over the country and seen several products made using water hyacinth. But never come across such diversification of products. That’s our USP. We’ve developed technologies to use water hyacinth at any stage of growth. We can even use dried and decayed plants,” Anoop pointed out.
The collaboration between Dr Prabhu, the Principal Investigator at CRAR, and the top bureaucratic officials stemmed from a shared concern about the environmental impact of water hyacinths in several states, including Kerala. Seeking a sustainable solution to this issue, Dr Bajpayee and Ms Nandan approached Dr Prabhu with the idea of using water hyacinth-derived materials for official use.
“The other day we sent them a presentation on such green materials that can be used regularly in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The same can set a precedent for sustainable practices within the Indian bureaucracy. We’re awaiting the reply of the top officials,” said Prabhu.
Talks are also on to facilitate the setting up of a stall to showcase the diverse eco-friendly products developed by Dr Prabhu and his team during the forthcoming Wetlands Day Celebrations by the India Government to be held at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, during the first week of February.
Dr Prabhu's work with water hyacinths dates back to the early 2000s, when he began exploring ways to utilize the plant's unique properties for sustainable purposes. Through extensive research and experimentation, he developed a process to transform water hyacinths into biodegradable paper and other eco-friendly materials. His work has gained recognition for its potential to address the environmental challenges posed by water hyacinths, which are known to clog waterways and disrupt ecosystems.
The resulting biodegradable visiting cards represent a significant step towards embracing sustainability within the Indian bureaucracy. The initiative serves as a powerful symbol of the commitment of the high-ranking officers of the Ministry of Environment to environmental responsibility and encourages others in positions of influence to adopt sustainable practices. The measure also serves as a beacon of hope in a world grappling with the consequences of climate change. The journey from laboratory innovation to bureaucratic reform offers a model for aligning science, governance, and environmental stewardship toward a more sustainable future.
Dr Prabhu's contribution extends beyond the development of water hyacinth-based materials. His tireless efforts have helped to bridge the gap between scientific innovation and practical application, paving the way for a more environmentally conscious approach to governance.
A novel study by a team of international researchers, including Dr Prabhu, has succeeded in using satellite images to detect water hyacinths in Vembanad Lake. They also prepared a heat map, a first of its kind, showing the water hyacinth presence over a two-year time frame that can be utilized for effective weed management practices.
A host of technologies developed by the Centre headed by him have gained attention at the national and international levels. For instance, decayed weeds mixed with soil could be used for floating farms and processing freshwater hyacinths for mushroom cultivation.
The story of water hyacinths turning into visiting cards is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and the transformative potential of administrative leadership.