In this exclusive interview, Afroz Shah, who spearheaded the world’s biggest citizen-powered beach cleanup operation in Mumbai, shares his vision on why we humans pollute our planet, and what needs to be done to turn the tide.
AFROZ SHAH’S EXPLANATION FOR WHY WE POLLUTE OUR PLANET LIKE WE DO
Speaking exclusively to BrightVibes earlier this year, Afroz Shah had this to say. “There is a complete disconnect between us as humans. We are not connected.
I’m an ocean lover. I feel I owe it to my planter to give, give, give. Love is the missing link. The day we realise we love this planter, we will do what has to be done. My whole work comes from that love.
We may step out for dinner, we may party. You may do whatever, but there is a complete disconnect among us. That’s one. Secondly, there is a complete disconnect with nature.
Both these disconnections happened because we have lost the sense of belonging. I feel like I’m existing on an island, so I’ll make lots of money. I’ll get all kinds of things in my life . I will leave a huge carbon print on the planet. I get lots of plastic and throw it because this planet is not mine. I’m supposed to do my journey. This is me.
This the lost sense of belonging is the key. That’s why my work in Mumbai is to connect people up to see that. That I and you share a common heritage… that heritage that you’re going to give to the next generation is coexisting with other species and our planet. We have to take some practical doable steps every week. It’s not very hard, it’s just not that hard.” ~ Afroz Shah
Scroll down to learn more about Afroz Shah’s latest project, cleaning Mumbai’s Mithi River.
Environmental action hero turns his attention to Mumbai’s Mithi river
Afroz Shah is a young Indian lawyer and environmental organiser from Mumbai. He is synonymous with the world’s largest ever beach clean-up project.
In October 2015, Shah and his neighbor Harbansh Mathur, an 84-year-old who has since passed away, were frustrated with the piles of decomposing waste that had washed up and completely overwhelmed the city’s Versova beach.
Determined to do something about it, the pair started cleaning up the beach themselves, one piece of rubbish at a time. Their activity soon attracted attention, and numbers swelled as all walks of life from the city came to help the lawyer tidy their beach.
Three years, countless volunteers, and literally thousands of tons of trash later, Shah’s tireless efforts were rewarded. He and others were witness to the historic moment when around 90 Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings scuttled into the sea after being born—an event that had not occurred at Versova Beach for the past 20 years.
In 2016 Shah was recognised by the UN as ‘Champion of the Earth’ for Inspiration and Action.
Now the environmental hero has turned his attention to a new location in the city — the Mithi river.
Talking to The Times of India about the initiative, Afroz says he put up a post about it on social media and received a good response. “I took 25 volunteers with me to begin the work at BEST Nagar located at the mouth of Vihar Lake (also the origin of Mithi River), but when we got there, we found around 100 more people joining us on the first day itself.”
He also feels that authorities need to make manufacturers responsible. “In the 20,000 households that we had trained at Versova beach, we picked up 2,50,000 pieces of plastic in the last four months. They weigh less as these are packets of popular snacks, etc, so it is important that producers are made responsible for this too.
I’ll be submitting reports to the state government on this. Citizens can do their bit, but manufacturers, too, should contribute in keeping the city clean,” Shah elaborated.
Source: Times of India
Why the Mithi river?
While conducting a survey of beaches in Mumbai which needed to be worked on, the Mithi river was brought to his attention. “The Mithi river is a bigger issue as it goes right through the heart of Mumbai…. So, it’s been on my mind for long and I, finally, decided to take it up.” Shah told the Time’s of India.
Shah says once he zeroed in on the river, he started visiting it, researching on river cleaning and bonding over food with the locals.
“Having cleaned Versova beach for three years, we were also training people on how to handle garbage. We believe in circular economy, which stresses on garbage reduction philosophy and recycling. The boys we’ve trained have taken it up as a movement and now, teach others too. Cleaning is one, but without community development it is of no use,” he stresses.
He says that the same policy will be followed at Mithi River, too.
Regards Versova Beach, Shah says his volunteers will continue the drive as he will not be involved directly in the clean-up of Versova beach. “I’ll be building a new set of volunteers for the Mithi River, while those who have been working at Versova will continue. Authorities have given a new contract with a big amount for six years, so the contractor should take up the responsibility as it’s public money. One of my volunteers will keep track and maintain a weekly report to ensure the work is done.”
Along with cleaning the Mithi river in Powai, Shah 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.
Source: Times of India
See below: BrightVibes earlier coverage of Afroz Shah, the Versova Beach cleanup, and the Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings.
“I believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. How he inspired with his messages, one life at a time…”
Shah explains the root causes of pollution in the river. “Both banks of the river are lined by slums for a long stretch. Solid waste, including plastic, household garbage and even raw sewage keeps pouring into the river. In addition, Mithi battles with the uncontrolled inflow of industrial effluents, especially from the Kurla region,” he told Effortsforgood.org
After the devastating Mumbai floods in 2005, a board was set up by Mumbai Municipal Corporation to supervise the protection of Mithi river. “But since it was not a statutory body, their monitoring process was irregular which did little help. There were major lapses on part of the citizens as well,” said Shah.
However, what Shah eyes is not merely the physical cleaning of the river, picking up plastic packets, bottles or scratches and strips of other non-biodegradable garbage. “My main focus is to create a circular economy, similar to the model I started in Versova beach,” he explains, “I want to make people conscious that they should not dump garbage into the river and manage their waste more systematically.”
The Mithi river cleaning campaign has already gathered around a hundred dedicated volunteers, who devote their time and efforts every weekend.
Afroz Shah has split his battalion into groups of two and three who go from door to door, pleading people to stop rampant garbage dumping.
“I believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. How he inspired with his messages, one life at a time, is phenomenal,” shares Shah, who aspires to tread the same path.
“Cleaning a river is way more difficult than cleaning up a beach,” he states. He clarifies that for cleaning a river, people need to get knee-deep or even waist-deep into the filthy water, which can be highly harmful to health. “So you need ample protective gears like gloves and gumboots,” he advises.
Finding volunteers was never a challenge for Afroz Shah
People were already aware of the problem, but they were struggling to come together and figure out a solution. “All I did was to give them the nudge that this is an emergency situation. The response was overwhelming. The widespread awareness that was created stopped the menace of garbage disposal altogether in Versova.
I am hoping to replicate the same in case of Mithi,” he shares humbly. “I don’t plan to just clean a river, I want to rejuvenate it,” he adds.
LAWYER SPEARHEADS THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BEACH CLEAN-UP MUMBAI, INDIA, AND THE RESULTS ARE BREATHTAKING
Young Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah received the highest UN environment award for the Versova Beach mammoth clean-up operation.