A Couple's Initiative In Bringing Back Mahim Beach Which Lay Under 650 Tonnes Of Garbage

Owning an apartment in Mumbai is an accomplishment but owning a sea-facing apartment is considered a trophy. It is a sign that you have made it big in life. People shell out 10's of crores to enjoy sea 24*7. But what if after making such an investment you are welcomed with a beach with layers and layers of garbage.

This story is about one such couple. Indranil Sengupta, a former Viacom18 Associate Vice-President and business head, now runs his design firm, and his wife Rabia Tiwari who worked as a merchandiser in New York for 12 years before moving to Mumbai in 2011. She is now the business head of her husband’s firm. Having worked right from the age of 21, Indranil riding high with an illustrious career, the next step was to own a home which could provide with much needed peace and tranquility into their busy lives.   

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In 2017, Indranil and Rabia Tewari bought a sea facing apartment in Mahim where they hoped to enjoy the view and morning walks by the sea but to their dismay, the sea shore was piled with garbage, as high as four to five feet. Calls were made to the BMC helpline, but all they got were empty promises. Hoping that the contractor appointed by the civic body would clean up with each passing day seemed more and more far-fetched.

In spite of not knowing much about cleaning beaches, inspired from Afroz Shah, who has taken up the responsibility of cleaning Versova beach in Mumbai, they decided to take the matter in their own hands. On September 9, 2017, the couple with the help of two other people from the building who agreed to volunteer picked up a pair of gloves each, started cleaning one kilometer stretch between Mahim Dargah Lane to Hinduja Hospital. Soon it became a routine. "No matter how many people come forward, every weekend we go to the beach at 8 AM sharp and do clean-up for two hours. It is a ritual for the two of us. We get an average of 25-30 volunteers. It has been 46 weeks, and we received a support from some 100-150 volunteers only on five or six weekends" said Indranil while speaking with NDTV.

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In their fight against beach pollution, these Swachch Warriors had to face a lot of challenges.

1. Minimum support from the Locals

For the longest time, it was just the two of them and perhaps five to fifteen volunteers from all over Mumbai. It was only after their efforts were recognized at a felicitation ceremony by UN Environment, more volunteers began to join their initiative. In spite of that the participation from Mahim residents was the least. In order to spread awareness among the residents they created a What Sapp group and started a Facebook page to promote the drive and reached out to educational institutions in the vicinity too.

The most irritating thing according to the couple is whenever citizens are asked to volunteer, they get a fixed reply ‘This is government’s job, why should we do it? "My question is what all the government will do it. Also, we have created this mess over a period of time and it is our duty to clean it. Civic responsibility is zero these days. Instead of blaming the government, we need to take ground actions," says Indranil.

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2. Plastic Menace

On an average, the team collects 20 tonnes of garbage every weekend. As of today, the duo along with volunteers have collected 650 tonnes of waste from the Mahim beach. Of the total garbage collected 90 per cent is plastic and the remaining 10 per cent is pieces of cloth, shoes, and other kinds of waste. While collecting the garbage from the beach, they even have to segregate them into dry waste, wet waste, recyclable and non-recyclable goods, and other things. "For a long time we were just collecting garbage for the excavators and trucks to come and pick it and take it to landfills. But now we have started giving waste to a social enterprise that treats plastic waste and recycles it to materials used in making road," tells Indranil. Although they are hopeful that the recent ban on single-use plastic in Mumbai might help to curb the problem of pollution.

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3. Unfiltered Mithi River

 According to him the garbage that is making its way into the sea is through Mithi River. The river which has now been reduced to a nullah carrying tons of waste and discharging into the Arabian Sea, close to Mahim beach. Because of this they have been pressurizing BMC to install a sort of filtration system to discard garbage before entering the sea.

4. Open defecation

“There is a visible difference from the first week itself, but this can be sustained only if bigger steps are taken. At times, we still see people from the Koli village throwing garbage, defecating and swimming — all in the same water. We distributed dustbins in the village and have been successful in controlling the amount of garbage on the beach from these households. We are supervising the timely collection of trash by the BMC waste management team. But we continue to believe there is still a long way to go.” They have also requested the authorities to arrange for public toilets in Koli village to avoid the menace of open defecation.

5. Lack of workers and machineries

BMC though supportive haven't been of much help in the cause. "There is only one excavator that takes care of a stretch of almost four kilometers – from Mahim to Prabhadevi. On paper, 35 people are marked for the cleanup, but only 19 are actually on ground. 19 workers, one excavator and two trucks cannot clean the beach," says Indranil.

The pride of the work done and the response they are getting from people from all parts of the city, is very visible in their talks. While talking about the change they have noticed since the beginning of their journey, Rabia says, “There is a visible difference from the first week itself, but this can be sustained only if bigger steps are taken. At times, we still see people from the Koli village throwing garbage, defecating and swimming — all in the same water. We distributed dustbins in the village and have been successful in controlling the amount of garbage on the beach from these households. We are supervising the timely collection of trash by the BMC waste management team. But we continue to believe there is still a long way to go.”

We need more of such people, to make our city healthier and safer for people living in it. If you wish to help the Swachch Warriors, get in touch with them on Facebook here.

Picture Source: The Hindu; The Logical Indian; NDTV.com; Swachch India; The Better India

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