river filled with garbage

Paralyzed Man Is Cleaning Plastic From River Goes –And He’s Showered With Gifts to Better His Life

This man is cleaning plastic from a river in his hometown, and it’s a real wake-up call for everyone.

It’s impossible not to realize the state our planet is in. Believe it or not, in 2014, 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles were estimated to be floating around in the oceans worldwide. This plastic weighs a whopping 93,000 to 236,000 tonnes.[1]


Our rivers, oceans, and earth are so heavily polluted by plastic. It takes around 450 YEARS to decompose, and in the past 30 years alone, the production of plastic has increased by 70 percent. It seems the plastic problem is getting worse by the day.[2]


Man is spotted cleaning plastic from river

A young engineer and budding photographer from Kerala, India, recently captured a photograph that is both inspiring and incredibly sad.[3]


Nandu Ks was walking near a bridge one day, and he noticed a man cleaning plastic from the river below. As people tossed their empty bottles and other rubbish into the water, this man in a boat picked them out of the water.


“I always wanted to capture images that had a story to tell, images that had life.”

Nandu Ks

This man happens to be 69-year old N. S. Rajappan. He is also paralyzed and has been since the age of five because of Polio.


In his small boat, he rows through the waterways of Vembanad Lake and collects plastic every day. He does this to earn a living. Although he earns only Rs 12 (17 cents) from his boatload of plastic, it’s enough to buy food and satisfy his hunger.


“I won’t get much from this. A boat full of plastic bottles will be less than one kilogram. For a kilogram, I get Rs 12. But, somebody should remove the waste from the water. I have been living around these waters my entire life. I am doing what is possible for me.”

Rajappan – The News Minute.

Since he cannot use crutches, each day, Rajappan drags himself down to the river, gets into his small rowing boat, and begins collecting plastic from the Meenachil River.

cleaning plastic
Image Credit: Nandu Ks | Pro Media

Read: Social Inequality, As Seen From The Sky


Cleaning for food, and the environment

After the photo was taken, Rajappan made local headlines. The photo was posted to Twitter, where it went viral. Even the UN Environment Program chief Erik Solheim shared the image.


Then, The Indian Prime Minister himself, Narendra Modi, even spoke of the man during a radio address.

I have seen news from Kerala which reminds us of our responsibilities. Imagine how highly he thinks! We must also take inspiration from him and contribute towards cleanliness as far as possible.”

Narendra Modi

Rajappan says he isn’t cleaning plastic only for monetary gain. He doesn’t understand why people are throwing plastic into the river.

“Somebody should remove the waste from the water… I am doing what is possible for me. If I knew to row a boat earlier. I would like to get a bigger boat of my own so that I can spend some more time, and cover more areas to collect plastic.”

N. S. Rajappan – The Better India
cleaning plastic
Image Credit: Nandu Ks | Pro Media

Since his story went viral, Rajappan has been gifted by many. A businessman gave him a motorboat, and there are talks of rebuilding his little shack, which was damaged in a storm.

Nandu and Rajappan have since become good friends, too!

“I always wondered what it felt like to follow your passion, but never knew its true feeling till the day I met Rajappan chettan (brother Rajappan). I went to him and showed him the photo I clicked. He smiled at me—and then I knew what it meant to be a photographer.

It takes a photographer to be at that moment and make that picture happen for the world to know the story.”


Keep Reading: Scuba diver captures breathtaking labyrinth of underwater caves worshipped by the Mayans


  1. How plastic pollution is affecting seals and other marine life.World Animal Protection. November 17, 2017.
  2. How long does it take for plastic to degrade?Pelacase. March 10, 2020.
  3. Photo of Paralyzed Man Cleaning Plastic From India River Goes Viral – And He’s Showered With Gifts to Better His Life.Good News Network. March 6, 2021.
Jade Small
Freelance Writer
Jade is a freelance writer and content creator from South Africa with over 7 years experience writing and creating. She's also a proud single mom to a super 13 year old boy.