Chowpatty could mean any beach, but when Mumbaiites say ‘Chowpatty’, they are referring to the golden crescent of sand in the southern tip of the city, where thousands gather every evening to take in the sea breeze. Despite the crowds, the beach is perhaps the cleanest in the city.
Read more: How to keep Mumbai’s beaches clean
Nilesh Bane, a resident of Girgaum, said it was because citizens understood the beach’s recreational and historical importance. “You will barely see anyone litter because it is the respect that is ingrained in us about Chowpatty’s rich history,” he said.
With Malabar Hill on its fringes, the word Girgaum in Marathi means a village in the foothills. The area was associated with the freedom movement and the beach has a memorial to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, whose funeral took place on August 1, 1920. Members of the Lokmanya Tilak Swarajya Bhumi Smarak Samiti, the group that maintains the monument, said Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters took a symbolic bath in the waters during the protest against the repressive Rowlatt Act in April 1919. These days, the water along the beach is not fit for swimming. In 2015, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board in 2015 measured the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) — oxygen levels crucial for plants and animals to survive in water – and found it was10.67 mg per litre — twice the safe limit. Water with a reading of more than 3mg per litre is unfit for human consumption and marine life is endangered at levels above 6mg per litre, according to Central Pollution Control Board guidelines.
The beach itself, however, is clean. “Chowpatty has clean-up facilities that no other beach in the city has,” said Vishal Chavan, former lifeguard. “Garbage is collected twice a day daily since 2014. Vacuum-powered machines filter sand.”
“The beach has a history that makes it of prime importance,” said Gautam Kirtane, research fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
Environmentalists identified other reasons why the beach is relatively clean. The beach’s location in south Mumbai and proximity to Mantralaya – the state’s political nerve centre – means it gets more attention from the corporation. “There are fewer nullahs here as compared to other beaches, which means less amount of floating garbage in the sea,” said Stalin Dayanand, director, Vanashakti. “The food stalls are in one location and all the waste is thrown in one area, collected and disposed of by the BMC,” said environmentalist Anand Pendharkar.
Dr Ananthrao Bajam, health officer, BMC, said, “When it comes to beach cleaning, it is about how aware people are. Awareness among people is generally rising. Sanitation and health has become the topic of discussion for everybody.”