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Life is a beach

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Mumbai’s beautiful coastline is marred by filthy beaches that can cause a variety of illnesses, but enthusiastic citizens are making a difference, says Tanmaya Vyas, on the occasion of World Environment Day

Mumbai could have boasted of a beautiful coastline and tourism-worthy beaches. The reality is far from this. Of the 12 functional beaches in and around Mumbai, most are unclean and unhygienic. Beaches in Mumbai—also known as ‘Chowpatty’—are used as picnic spots. With all the plastic and other litter that people leave behind, however, a dip in the water could well have you returning with a skin infection, or worse! According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), headquartered in New York, illnesses associated with polluted beach water include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis.

In the recent budget, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had declared that comprehensive beach cleaning for 30-plus kilometres would be carried out and mechanised beach clean-up would follow. This awakening did not happen overnight though.

Three years ago, a resident of Versova and a lawyer, Afroz Shah, set on a mission to clean Versova beach. Soon, several people in the neighbourhood joined him. A small step turned into a movement acknowledged and appreciated by everyone, from slum-dwellers to Bollywood stars and politicians. The initiative was so successful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the United Nations applauded it.

Versova beach, which was known as one of the dirtiest in Mumbai, had huge deposits of plastic and garbage that had also impacted the breeding of turtles; thanks to the efforts of Shah and others he has inspired, the beach witnessed the hatching of turtle eggs recently. The best part is that Shah’s efforts have led to a new generation of youngsters becoming active.

For instance, Chinu Kwatra, a 27-year-old Thane resident, initiated a clean-up at Dadar Chowpatty. The campaign, which began as the Ganesha Campaign, referring to the perils of Ganesh Visarajan, progressed to be a Beach campaign. “I didn’t know that Dadar has a chowpatty, as all I knew was Dadar station and Siddhivinayak temple nearby,” says Chinu. “When I came here, I was shocked to see the plight and the first time we excavated garbage, it was one foot deep. The biggest challenge was having a team. I, along with three other team members, came from Thane and we started cleaning it. I was apprehensive about asking anyone to join, as I could not have afforded anything above the refreshments and cost for gloves. But the enthusiasm and willingness of many people gave this idea momentum.”

Over 40 weeks, Chinu and his team collected over 200 tonnes of garbage from Dadar Chowpatty alone, working relentlessly during high and low tide. Chinu shares, “The main source of garbage at Dadar Chowpatty is Worli Village and mentality of the inhabitants. Awareness about right disposal of wastage is very important. My team and I clean Worli Village on Saturdays and the beach on Sundays. We started with the stretch from Kirti College to Prabhadevi and managed to keep the work going. We have also been able to put 11 dustbins in this stretch. BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been supportive and special thanks to Aditya Thackeray who has supported all through.” Chinu and his team have now gone a step further; they recently opened a vertical garden at the Dadar Chowpatty using 52 plastic bottles.

To be a part of this drive, it is important to identify the crux of the problem. Plastic, specifically single-use plastic, is one of the main reasons. One of the most buzzing chowpattys in Mumbai is Juhu Beach, with an approximate footfall of over 35,000-40,000 people on one day of any given weekend or public holiday. The beach is lined with food stalls offering the choicest street food. Spending time with family and friends with food is the agenda; however, with the number of visitors, even a single carelessly strewn straw can snowball into a major menace. A ban on plastic that was on its way to becoming effective has been given a couple of month’s grace period, considering the loss manufacturers would face with the unsold stock. Come July 2018, the ban on plastic will hopefully be operative.

Another reason is the sewage system. With an over-populated city like Mumbai, sewage production of over 2,200 to 2,400 million litres is not surprising. The system that handles this sewage opens at beaches, making things worse. This is also one of the reasons for flooding during monsoons, as the high tide during the season blocks the system by throwing water from the ocean back into the system.

Individuals like Afroz and Chinu are certainly setting the right examples for everyone. Several celebrities have also joined the bandwagon. Actress Divya Dutta is among those who have recently joined in, participating in the cleaning of Juhu Beach with Chinu’s next leg of beach cleaning.  Today on the occasion of World Environment Day, #SAVETHEBEACH campaign and a whole day clean-up drive will take place at Juhu Beach, with celebrities like Milind Soman and Varun Dhawan expected to participate along with other volunteers from the city. This initiative is a collaboration between many organisations including Corona, Earth Day Network, United Nations Environment Programme among others, with a theme #BEATPLASTICPOLLUTION. Restaurants like The Daily Bar and Kitchen in Bandra uphold the ‘Refuse the Straw Movement’, discouraging people from using plastic straws for their drinks. Founder Dishant Pritamani says, “It’s not so much about refusing the straw as much as educating the customer; no one knows what happens to straws after you use them.” The restaurant also has educational coasters that give customers a brief understanding of life cycle of straw.

Taking a cue from this, on this World Environment Day, let’s take measures to save the beautiful coastline gifted to the City of Dreams. A man-made calamity that has struck Mumbai and has piled up over the years, clearing up the debris is a humongous task. The condition is appalling though not irreparable.

Four steps to cleaner beaches

1 Avoid using plastic

Straws, fruits in plastic containers, water bottles with non-degradable plastic are optional and can be definitely avoided. If everyone who visits the beach takes a small step of not using a straw while sipping on their favourite drink, a lot of mess could be prevented.

2 Disposal of plastic

Hoarding of plastic bags is a ritual with most Indian households. Get rid of them by giving these to NGOs or even selling it to a local raddiwala. The return would be a meagre amount, but the benefits are priceless. The NGOs/raddiwalas would deposit these bags into safe hands. Recently, there have been companies set up that recycle these plastic products and convert them into T-shirts and caps. Or they can be used in the production of kerosene.

3 Use of dustbins at beaches

A basic hygiene habit that build up a better place. BMC is trying to put dustbins with wet and dry waste segregation. Instead of throwing waste on the beach, take the little effort to dispose of it in the nearest dustbin. Follow wet and dry segregation at home as well.

4 The next generation 

Even casual talks with the young ones about the importance of a clean environment would be beneficial.

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