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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Mumbai techie clears 15 tonnes trash from mangroves in 90 days, shovels sense into civic body

Pained by civic apathy, 51-year-old Rehan Merchant takes it upon himself to clear Bandra mangroves of muck, debris and trash

mumbai Updated: Sep 18, 2017 10:33 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Rehan Merchant clears Bandra mangroves of muck in Mumbai on Saturday.
Rehan Merchant clears Bandra mangroves of muck in Mumbai on Saturday. (Shashi S Kashyap/HT )

For the past three months, citizens walking or jogging along Bandra’s Carter Road promenade have been seeing a man with a shovel in his hand, digging and clearing mangroves of debris and garbage. He was always seen working alone.

Toiling as a one-man army against garbage that is choking Mumbai’s mangrove forests, 51-year-old Rehan Merchant, a Bandra resident, has cleared more than 15 tonnes of litter in 90 days. He cleared a 100-foot-wide pool of sewage by creating a channel that allowed the high tide water to wash away muck. He unclogged a decade-old sewage pipe so that plastic would not get stuck to mangrove branches.

Inspired by Merchant’s efforts, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) sent 10 clean-up marshals to assist him.

In two weeks, the BMC workers have helped him remove more than five tonnes of trash. The heavy downpour on Saturday morning did not interrupt the latest cleaning session.

After spending 12 years working in the Middle East, Merchant, a website designer, returned to Mumbai in 2009 and found that the area, where he grew up, was strewn with garbage, mostly plastic. “What was worse, the amount of trash kept increasing daily as the high tide would set in,” said Merchant. He contacted the authorities and local politicians to clean the area but his pleas were not addressed.

He studied the cause and devised a plan to remove plastic with minimal effort. He called the plan ‘Prakritik Samadhan’ or environmental solution. He put up signboards, requesting people to contribute Rs 600 per day for one additional worker who could remove the excess garbage while he dug a channel to drain sewage. “When authorities failed to support me, citizens did and we were able to clear the sewage,” said Merchant.

He refuses to take the credit for the cleaning operation. “Nature supported me. During high tide, the storm water and sewage would automatically channel the excess garbage, silt and muck into the sea, allowing me enough time to clear the residual trash,” said Merchant.

He added that Mumbai’s flood problem could be easily solved by following his model.

After the sewage was drained, Merchant contacted the assistant municipal commissioner, H (West) ward, Sharad Ughade, who agreed to survey the area. “When citizens step forward and participate towards a cleaner environment, we will always commit our resources to boost their endeavour,” said Ughade.

“Merchant’s efforts are a little unorthodox but they are nonetheless exemplary. Our workers will ensure that the area is trash free,” said Mangesh Mayekar of BMC’s solid waste management department.


Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants, a common natural feature along the Mumbai coast

Apart from playing a role in stabilising coastlines, mangrove trees act as carbon sinks, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing them in the vegetation. This process is called carbon sequestration, and helps control global warming by reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere

· Mangrove ecosystem establishes and grows at the interface of soil and water bodies like sea, creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons. They are commonly found in inter-tidal areas – area between the high tide and the low tide.

· Mangrove ecosystem is believed to have evolved around 114 million years ago in tropical and subtropical regions. It requires a minimum of 24 degrees Celsius temperature for growth

Official Speaks

“The city is generating large quantities of trash daily and mangroves are bearing the brunt. Similar to our cleanup drive at the Carter Road mangroves, we welcome Merchant’s efforts in creating a sustainable habitat for the several plant and animal species surviving at these mudflats,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit.

First Published: Sep 18, 2017 10:33 IST

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