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Mumbai’s Versova beach mess: Centre steps in, promises help after clean-up is suspended

Lawyer Afroze Shah said the drive was stopped after 109 weeks owing to abuses from local goons and inadequate waste clearance by BMC

mumbai Updated: Nov 23, 2017 10:24 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Versova beach clean-up,PM Modi
On Sunday, Shah announced the drive that has been on for 109 weeks would be stopped owing to abuses from local goons and inadequate waste management by the civic body.(FILE)

Days after city-based lawyer Afroz Shah announced the plan to suspend Versova beach clean-up, the minister of state for housing and urban affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, took up the matter with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Shah announced the drive that has been on for 109 weeks would be stopped owing to abuses from local goons and inadequate waste management by the civic body.

Puri tweeted on Tuesday that he was deeply concerned about the attack on Shah and his volunteers by criminal elements. “Took up the matter with Maharashtra chief minister’s office and was assured that instructions had already been issued to Municipal Corporation and Mumbai police authorities to give all help,” he tweeted, adding, “This service [clean-up drive] to the nation must go on.”

Shah told HT on Wednesday that he stood by his decision of not conducting clean-up drives at the beach. “I have not told anyone that the clean-up drive will resume. I am grateful to the minister and the Centre for highlighting the issue. I don’t want to take a call until the time the ground reality doesn’t change. It will only become a cyclical process, where citizens clean the beach, but there is no follow-up action,” he said.

Clarifying on Shah’s allegations of improper waste management, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials told HT the location where the trash (5 lakh kg) was collected was inaccessible during the monsoon, and the process of segregating the waste into dry and wet was time-consuming. The BMC removed 12 truckloads of collected garbage from the beach on Tuesday and another 15 on Wednesday. “We have removed 50% of the trash so far. The remaining will be removed by Friday,” said Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner and ward officer. “We have increased manpower for waste segregation at the site. As dumpers can’t reach the location, we have deployed tractors. We have also decided to deploy two vehicles for every clean-up, so the garbage is collected and sent during the drive itself.”

The civic officer said the local police station has been asked to file a non-cognisable offence against unidentified persons for the alleged abuse. “We have been told that police personnel will be deployed for security of volunteers this weekend, if Shah decides to carry on with the drive,” said Gaikwad.

Shah and 84-year-old neighbour, Harbansh Mathur (who passed away in 2016) started to clean the 2.5km stretch in October 2015. The volunteers have so far cleared 7 million kg of trash from the beach. The effort was hailed by the United Nations Environment Programme as the ‘world’s largest beach clean-up’, and was lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

The Mumbai police said they would provide safety to Shah and his volunteers even in the absence of complaints. “Shah has set an example for citizens and the Mumbai police will support him in his endeavour. We will ensure full security to Versova Residents’ Volunteers,” said Kiran Kale, senior inspector, Versova police station.

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 09:33 IST