The Optimist Citizen

The story of Padma Shri Janak Palta McGilligan who is making Sustainable and Waste-less living into a reality

Meet Mrs. Janak Palta, the pioneer behind sustainable living in Central India. She is a known social worker for the world, but for the villagers in Sanawadia village of M.P, she is the ever-smiling and gentle Didi. A woman so dedicated to her cause, that even after surviving a tragic accident that left her a widow, she never once deterred from her chosen path. A Padma Shri awardee, she is the founder of the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women along with her Irish husband late Mr. Jimmy McGilligan. With sheer commitment to the cause, they successfully empowered numerous tribal and rural women, spreading indigenous knowledge, awareness and imparting values, thereby contributing in their holistic development. She currently resides in ‘Giridarshan’, the Jimmy McGilligan Centre for Sustainable Development, in Sanawadia village near Indore, built by her husband for their post- retirement life. The place is regularly buzzing with people from various walks of life. The reason? Simply put, it is the implementation of ideas of a sustainable lifestyle that draws people to this quaint house on the hill side. Many of the practices that are read and forgotten in General Science textbooks in school are seen in action at the Centre.

Harnessing solar and wind energy, the abundant gifts of nature, the Centre is completely self-sufficient in terms of energy consumption. Electricity to the village Sanawadia is also supplied from the Centre via the solar cells and wind mill installed there. On wind-less days and days with lesser sunlight, another renewable source of energy-briquettes, is used for the purpose of cooking. Waste newspapers, when converted into thick small cylinders, form briquettes and are used as fuel. There are eleven varieties of solar cookers at the Centre and all cooking is done using them, along with live demonstrations to visitors. For an average household, it is nearly impossible to live a single day without generating some waste, but there is absolutely no waste generation here. Vegetables and herbs are grown organically and there is zero usage of plastic. For Mrs. Janak, sustainable development is not limited to judicious use of energy sources. In her own words – “I’m talking of sustainable development in terms of us human beings playing our role as God’s best creation in sustaining our relationships with the animal, vegetation and mineral kingdoms. And this is not possible without us sustaining our relationships with each other.” On the festival of Holi, children from the village prepared and sold natural herbal colours. These small steps make a remarkable difference to development as a whole, because care and concern for nature is integral for the elevation of humankind. Leading by example, she continues her work steadfastly, silently propagating that being a widow does not take away her being, her mission.

From the Institute where she trained rural and tribal women, making them capable of getting employment to her model of sustainable living in Sanawadia, Mrs.Janak epitomizes selfless service and commitment towards a cause.


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