SRINAGAR: Young environmentalist Bilal Ahmad Dar, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s (SMC) brand ambassador, who was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the cleaning of Wular lake, has had to give up his school education after officials at SMC told him to choose either his SMC job or his education.
Dar was appointed as brand ambassador of SMC during the tenure of Dr Shafaqat Khan who was the Commissioner of SMC in 2017. He was offered Rs 8,000 honrarium for making people aware about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean, and given admission at a government school. However, after the removal of Khan as commissioner, he was told by SMC to choose either his education or the ‘job.’
“I don’t go to school anymore. I was told to choose school or SMC. These days I attend the SMC office and do my job of raising awareness among people,” he told Kashmir Reader.
He said an official (who is retired now) told him that if he goes to school, how can he do his work for SMC.
Dr Shafaqat Khan told Kashmir Reader that Dar was given an honorarium but that does not mean he had to attend office like an employee. He said he got Dar admitted to a school in Hyderpora where he was supposed to complete his education, and meanwhile raise awareness about keeping clean the surroundings. He termed Dar’s giving up of school as unfortunate and unfair to him.
The 20-year-old Dar, who is an orphan and bears the financial responsibility of his sister and mother, shot into prominence after a documentary was featured on his work of picking up trash from Wular Lake since he was 12 to support his family. He had been cleaning the trash for seven years before he was noticed by Shafaqat, who called Dar, a native of a remote area of north Kashmir, to the city and offered him to become brand ambassador for SMC.
Later, in his monthly radio programme Mann ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the SMC for appointing an ambassador for the cause of cleanliness, especially as Srinagar is a tourist destination and every Indian wants to go there.
“He clears plastic, polythene, used bottles, dry or wet waste – every piece of dirt from Asia’s biggest lake near Srinagar. Bilal is very young but is a source of inspiration for all of us who are interested in cleanliness. I congratulate Bilal Dar,” Modi said.
However, these days Dar attends his SMC office, goes door-to-door teaching people to segregate waste at source, goes to street vendors asking them not to throw waste on the street, and not to use polythene, but he does not go to school. Bilal was forced by poverty to drop out of high school. His school headmaster had asked him to pay the fees that had accumulated over months. Dar was forced to quit as his mother could not pay the fees.
Khan had revived Dar’s hopes of getting education again, but now he may be deprived of it if steps are not taken for his education. Even the honorarium that SMC pays him is not enough. Half of it goes to paying rent for his accommodation, while the other part is spent on his food and sending to his family back home.
Ex-SMC Commissioner Hafizullah told Kashmir Reader that he was unaware about thia matter. Current Commissioner SMC Mir Tariq Ali said he was busy offering evening prayers. This newspaper called him half an hour later, but his phone was out of reach.
Deputy Mayor Sheikh Imran told Kashmir Reader he was unaware about the matter but would look into it.
“Send me his number, I will speak to him and see what has happened,” Imran said.