3 years, 20 million kg trash later, Versova beach clean-up crusader looks for new mission
Afroz Shah, 34, the man behind “the world’s largest beach clean-up” is now looking for other locations in the city that need to be cleaned as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) contracted the work of cleaning Versova beach to a private agency.
From being one of the dirtiest beaches in the city, the 2.5-km long stretch was transformed over three years ago with removal of 20 million kg trash.
While BMC has awarded a Rs 22-crore tender to a private company to clean the beach for six years, residents will continue to volunteer.
“Versova is now clean and a fresh tender is already in place. I feel my work here is complete and it is time I moved on,” said Shah, adding that he will support volunteers if needed. “I am going to take up another flashpoint within the city that needs clean-up efforts as well as community development, but I am yet to decide where. The idea is to commence work from ground level convincing citizens to connect with nature.”
In October 2015, Shah and his 84-year-old neighbour, Harbansh Mathur (who passed away in 2016) began clearing the litter including plastic bags, cement sacks, glass bottles, pieces of clothing, and shoes among others. In less than a year, their efforts convinced over 300 citizens to join the cleanup campaign.
“He [Shah] will continue to be an icon for this generation, where citizens take matters into their own hands to achieve our dream. For him, it was to see a spotless beach,” said Devarshi Ahuja, a Versova resident.
In July 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called it the world’s largest beach cleanup with participation of top UN officials. Subsequently, Shah was awarded the UN’s top environmental accolade – Champions of the Earth award – in December 2016 at Cancun, Mexico, making him the first Indian to achieve the award. “Shah and citizens of Mumbai are a global inspiration,” said UNEP chief Erik Solheim.
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