Mumbai: Three years ago, when a lawyer-turned-environmentalist from Mumbai embarked on a journey to remove tonnes of garbage and provide a litter-free beach to the citizens, little did he know that it would turn into world’s largest beach cleanup drive, with thousands of people contributing towards the cause. Today, the beach warrior Afroz Shah has not only changed the face of Versova beach but has also put India on a global map for showing how citizen-driven movements can curb mounting garbage crisis. As Afroz’s goal has been accomplished after 160 weeks, he has now taken up a new challenge to clean Mumbai’s longest river, Mithi.
Talking to NDTV about his project, Afroz says,
The idea behind Mithi river cleanup is to create an army of people who love and value natural water bodies. I realised how bad the condition of Mithi river is when an Imam of a nearby mosque told me that 30 years ago, he used to use the water from the river as drinking water and now it has turned into a sewage. The river is 18 kilometres long starting at Vihar lake in Powai and ending near the Bandra Kurla Complex. Looking at the condition of the river I can say that it is going to take at least five years to clean the river.
Calling Mithi river as his new-found love, ‘Champions of the Earth’ awardee announced his new mission in a social post on November 14 and said,
“Need to hug nature as we hug our loved ones. Mithi river needs our hug. We intend to hug it tight and long and we start at the mouth of the river.
Tete with students from Thakur college of law – Need to hug nature as we hug our loved ones.
Recce at the mouth of Mithi River – This river needs our hug.
We intend to Hug it tight and long – New love – New date pic.twitter.com/JEm0bd7VJv
— Afroz shah (@AfrozShah1) November 14, 2018
Along with cleaning the Mithi river in Powai, Afroz will simultaneously work towards curbing plastic pollution from the Dani Paani beach in Malad. Just like Versova beach, volunteers will conduct a weekly cleanup drive on the weekends at both the locations. While two hours (12 PM to 2PM) will be dedicated every Saturday to clean the Dani Paani beach, Mithi river will be cleaned on every Sunday from 10AM to 2PM.
Cleaning and Tete with locals for circular economy . New date . New Love . New journey .
1. Sat – 12 to 2 pm – Dana Paani beach – Malad
2. Sun – 10 to 2 pm – Mithi River –
Pls join. pic.twitter.com/VgGP2iVNyv
— Afroz shah (@AfrozShah1) November 16, 2018
Into the second week of the new mission, Afroz has received an overwhelming response. Around 25 volunteers accompanied him at the Mithi river and seeing them nearly 100 citizens joined and helped in removing plastic and other litter. In both the weeks nearly 4,000 kilos of garbage were cleared and 300 metres of the river has been cleaned so far.
In 2015, Maharashtra Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam had declared that the Mithi river consisted of 93 per cent domestic sewage and 7 per cent industrial waste. The polluted river and the destruction of mangroves were responsible for the July 26, 2005, deluge in Mumbai. The river is clogged with plastic, sewage and garbage. Afroz aims to first clear the solid waste and later the liquid waste from the river.
At the Dani Paani beach, the drive began with cleaning the mangroves.
“Beach Cleanup begins with the cleanup of mangroves. Mangrove plants had fruits of plastic hanging and these fruits are choking them. Humanity messes and we undo,” he tweeted.
Beach Cleanup begins with the cleanup of mangroves .
Mangrove plants had fruits of plastic hanging and these fruits are choking them .
Humanity messes and we undo .
New date . New Love . pic.twitter.com/fnKOgC4l6L
— Afroz shah (@AfrozShah1) November 17, 2018
By getting rid of plastic items and other wastes from these two water bodies, Afroz aims to achieve four goals – help the marine species by lessening the plastic in their food and habitat, change the mindset of people by making them more responsible towards their surroundings, help community development and get a clean beach.
Beach cleaning –
1. Helps marine species – Less plastic in their food and habitat.
3. Community development.
4. Then a clean beach.
We do it pic.twitter.com/lx2tokMsxv
— Afroz shah (@AfrozShah1) November 24, 2018
Cleaning the water body is not enough, changing the mindset of the people is the need of the hour. There are nearly 5-6 million slum dwellers residing close to the river. On every visit, we will sensitise them to maintain cleanliness by telling them to reduce, reuse and recycle garbage, says Afroz.
Netizens came out in full support and thanked Afroz for addressing yet another major issue of Mumbai’s depleting water bodies.
Actor Randeep Hooda, who has been an active participant in Afroz Shah’s beach cleanup drives, retweeted his post to spread awareness.
Calling it a selfless deed towards the cause of humanity, one tweeple said,
Congratulations for this unselfish service to the humanities. Wondering whether these can be expanded to other cities n states
— M.Thirumurthy (@MThirumurthy1) November 17, 2018
Another twitter user said, “It’s like watching a surgeon perform bypass surgery on Mumbai’s clogged arteries to prolong its lifespan making Mumbai a much healthier place to reside for us and our GenNext. Wish Dr Afroz and his entire medical team great success for this operation.”
Its like watching a surgeon perform bypass surgery on Mumbai's clogged arteries to prolong its lifespan making #Amchi #Mumbai a much healthier place to reside for us and our GenNext. Wish Dr Afroz and his entire medical team great success for this Operation ??? #RiverMithi https://t.co/gbBSuRAeLT
— GaurangM (@gaurangscb) November 18, 2018
One of the netizens called Afroz pride of India and said, “If this man is not the pride of India then I don’t know who else is. If ever in future our beaches look cleaner and streams carry clean water, then please thank this worthy son of India. May he stay blessed and happy forever.”
If this man is not the pride of India then I don't know who else is. If ever in future our beaches look cleaner and streams carry clean water, then please thank this worthy son of India. May he stay blessed and happy forever. https://t.co/40ni0lTz5e
— Hari Prasad Patnaik (@PatnaikBobby) November 18, 2018
Here are a few other tweets boosting the moral of Afroz and his team:
Extremely remarkable @AfrozShah1 Sir.???Your dedication reminds us that life needs to be gutsy with +ve 3C's : Challenge, Choice and Change for happiness of all of the species living in our planet.Thanks Sir? https://t.co/1s1olS3r13
— Lynette (@lynn03_hlj) November 18, 2018
It is new revolution. Revolution by heart and soul, to love River Mithi. New journey where destination is to love River Mithi and environment in all way. "Mithi to make her more sweet the way she used to flow" <3 @AfrozShah1 https://t.co/CbsclvP6K3
— Pragati Shirke (@ShirkePragati) November 18, 2018
This is just amazing. For all those who berate the govt for not doing anything, here is one man showing us that if we take ownership of our community, WE CAN make a difference. @AfrozShah1 personifies " be the change you want to see". Hats off to him! https://t.co/auOVF781LV
— Anuradha Joshi (@dranujoshi1) November 19, 2018
— Jaya rathore (@jaya_rathor) November 25, 2018
Afroz Shah and his team of volunteers have been instrumental in removing more than 20 million kilos of garbage from Versova Beach over 160 weeks of clean-up. To maintain the cleanliness and ensure that sanitation quotient of the beach doesn’t drop again, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has hired a private firm to clean the beach for the next six years. The private firm is expected to spend around 22 crores for the same.
In his 160-week of Versova beach cleanup timeline, Afroz has received several recognitions and the accolades, right from receiving United Nations’ Champions of the Earth award, getting applauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for playing a vital role in fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Clean India, to the nature’s way of saying ‘thank you’ with the return of the Olive Ridley turtles to Versova beach after 20 years.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.