“We want to keep our beaches alive. And so regardless of whether we get enough local participation, we will continue our battle.”
On August 4, 2018, Mumbai couple namely Indranil Sengupta and Rabia Tewari reached the 46th week of cleaning Mahim beach.
They underwent a lot of struggles during the first few weeks with a handful of other volunteers. The batch included 40 students from the MET Rishikul Vidyalaya who has joined them. They collected heaps of non-degradable single-use plastic waste washed ashore along the stretch from Hinduja Hospital towards Mahim Dargah.
When Rabia and Indranil first moved to a beautiful sea-facing home in Mahim in 2017, little did the couple think their dream view would be diminished to mounds of garbage.
The lovely couple has been married for over seven years now. Sengupta was a former Viacom18 Associate Vice-President and business head and now he runs his own design firm. On the other hand, Rabia earlier worked as a merchandiser in New York for 12 years before moving to Mumbai in 2011. She is now the business head of her husband’s firm.
Sengupta an amazing career as he started working at the age of 21. Later, he realised that his happiness and satisfaction had started correlating to mere hikes in pay and performance appraisals. He quit his job in 2017 and dedicated every weekend to bring the beauty and charm of the beached of Mumbai with his wife.
For the longest time, it was just the two of them and perhaps five to fifteen volunteers from all over Mumbai. The local participation from Mahim was the least. In the first 35 weeks, they managed to clear over 500 tonnes of waste.
Their efforts were recognised at a felicitation ceremony by UN Environment and they were nominated by beach-cleanup poster boy Afroz Shah.
In an exclusive interview, they said they recalled their journey in which they had to face major challenges.
“When we first saw the pitiable condition of the beach with plastic strewn all over it, so much so that it started getting embedded in the sand, we dialled the BMC helpline. When we realised that the work wasn’t happening as effectively as it could, we decided to take charge of it ourselves. We did not have any prior knowledge about cleaning up beaches. But we trusted our instincts and dived in.”
Every weekend from 8 am to 10 am, the couple dedicatedly cleared the trash. The first weekend they started with only two volunteers from their building. While the number increased to 30 once, it wasn’t consistent; it was almost back to just five volunteers.
“Of the 19 staff too, only a few are spotted cleaning the stretch. Besides, the excavator, while picking the trash, ploughs more sand than plastic waste, and so it is crucial to manually empty sand from the plastic abandoned at the beach.”
“It washes most of the waste ashore as Mahim is the first stop where it meets the sea,” says Indranil.
“Ashok G Khairnar, Assistant Commissioner G/North Ward, BMC, has been very cooperative and supportive of our initiative,” added Indranil.
Talking about the change they have noticed since the beginning of their journey, Rabia says,
“There is a visible difference from the first week itself, but this can be sustained only if bigger steps are taken. At times, we still see people from the Koli village throwing garbage, defecating and swimming — all in the same water. We distributed dustbins in the village and have been successful in controlling the amount of garbage on the beach from these households. We are supervising the timely collection of trash by the BMC waste management team. But we continue to believe there is still a long way to go.”
“Some people say beach cleaning is a waste of time. It is frustrating to see how we always jump to pin all responsibility onto the authorities. What we fail to realise is, by the time a mesh or filtration system comes into place, our beach will be damaged beyond repair. It might not even be a beach anymore. So why can’t we, as citizens, do our bit to keep it garbage-free out of collective goodwill and social responsibility?
“We want to keep our beaches alive. And so regardless of whether we get enough local participation, we will continue our battle. Instead of spending one weekend at the nearest mall or club, how about we make our weekends meaningful by a community activity? Is it too much to ask?” With that, they sign off.
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