New Delhi: On September 16 the International Coastal Cleanup Day, around 2,000 swachh crusaders will wear their green badges, will come together to cleanup their favourite Mumbai beach – the Versova. This mega Versova cleanup will enter its 100th week. Even the badges these volunteers will wear is eco-friendly and on disposal will grow into a plant. Started two years ago, as a personal initiative of 36-year-old lawyer from Bombay High Court, Afroz Shah and neighbour Harbansh Mathur, the cleanup drive saw 1,500 number of people join in and convert this cleanup drive into the mammoth effort that saw 7.2 million kilograms of filth being cleared. The before and after images of Versova is a stark testimony of what people power can achieve on its own. Through this initiative, people from all walks of life and celebrities came out in support of the initiative. Latest being Campaign Ambassador of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Amitabh Bachchan who has gifted two machines that will help in the cleanup activities at the beach.
i am humbled .. but such inspiration needs support https://t.co/1yWlPYbFrs
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 14, 2017
The Versova Cleanup
Versova beach, located in north-western Mumbai, was less about sun, sand, and sea and more about stink, filth and open garbage dump. That was 100 weeks ago. Today it holds the title of the cleanest beach of Mumbai and is an example of community effort and weekly cleanups that have even drawn the attention of the United Nations.
What Motivated Afroz Shah To Clean Versova Beach
Every morning when I used to get up and see out of my window, I used to see garbage and more garbage. There was no end, it is this view that pushed me and my neighbour, Harbansh Mathur, to do something about it. And that’s when we started dirtying our own hands, says Afroz.
Afroz Shah is in love with the beaches and the Arabian Sea and it’s that love that inspires him to return week after week. Afroz adds, “We can’t wait for the government to react; we have waited for 70 years after independence. This is my planet, my earth, my ocean and I must clean it. It’s not disheartening, it’s an opportunity. If 22 million people living in Mumbai start doing what I am doing, half of Mumbai’s problem will be solved.”
The Road To Swachh Versova
Versova cleanup drive hit its first crescendo in August last year, when over 500 residents, Bollywood celebrities, BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) labourers and UN officials, including Eric Solheim, Chief of United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) and Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron of the Oceans, removed over 2.84 lakh kilograms of trash manually from the 2.5-km long beach.
— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) August 9, 2016
The same year, as it turned into a people’s movement, it also gained attention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On his Mann Ki Baat, PM Modi praised environmentalist Afroz Shah and his efforts towards cleaning Mumbai’s dirtiest Versova’s beach.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 28, 2017
Few months later, in October, after the continuous weekly cleanups done by around 1,500 volunteers at Versova Beach, approximately 3 million tonnes of trash was removed.
On August 2017, exactly one year later, and after 85 weeks cleanup, the Versova beach underwent a massive makeover – five million kilograms of plastic and filth was removed thereby making the beach spic and span, the picture of ‘Clean Versova’ after the makeover also went viral on social platforms.
— M Venkaiah Naidu (@MVenkaiahNaidu) May 22, 2017
Post Ganpati Visarjan (Immersion of Ganesh idols), he again organised a mega-cleanathon marking 99 week cleanup at Versova, along with 900 people and removed approximately 80,000 kilos of waste and 7,400 Ganesh Idols from the beach.
Here are some of the before and after pictures from Versova Beach.
Afroz Shah who has been awarded the UN’s top environmental accolade — Champions of the Earth award, aims to cleanup every beach in India. Currently, he wants to replicate his Versova effort across all 19 beaches of Mumbai. Inspired by his efforts, The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), has also decided to replicate Afroz Shah’s Versova Model for 13 other beaches across the country.
The success of Versova Beach cleanup which will soon be completing its 100 weeks on Saturday is a perfect example of the proverb – ‘It all has to start at an Individual level, in every home’