The Versova beach clean-up takes place every Sunday. It is one of the biggest citizen initiatives the world has seen and which has been applauded by the United Nations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been suspended by its spearhead Afroz Shah.
Afroz Shah, a lawyer who started the cleanup in October 2015 and who has rid the 2.7-km beach of five million kg of waste, put out a tweet on Sunday afternoon saying the drive was suspended after 109 weeks. He blamed “abuse by goons” and “administrative lethargy”, and posted: “Week 109 clean-up. Volunteers abused by goons for picking up garbage.
Administrative lethargy, non-clearance of picked up garbage, and abuses is what we are facing. Largest beach clean-up is suspended. Tried my best and I failed. Forgive me my ocean and my country.”
Curiously, Shah refused to divulge details of what transpired on Sunday. He did not answer the phone, nor did he reply to messages. This correspondent tried to meet him at his residence, but was told he was asleep. Sources associated with the cleanup drive said Shah and his team have been at loggerheads with the BMC for a long time now, regarding garbage not being collected from the beach. However, it couldn’t be established as to who had abused Shah and the volunteers.
A volunteer this newspaper spoke to said heaps to garbage collected by the citizens every Sunday remains at the spot for “days altogether, defeating the purpose of the drive”. “It’s a case of the authorities refusing to cooperate despite the citizens doing their best,” the volunteer said.
Versova corporator Yogiraj Dabhadkar and MLA Bharti Lavhekar said they will ensure the garbage collection will be sorted out at the earliest. “I am scheduled to meet the BMC officials with Afroz Shah on Monday. We will ensure the trash is removed immediately. I’m positive the beach clean-up will continue,” he said. Lavhekar said she was aware people were upset over the garbage collection issue. “I will meet the residents to find out what the problem is,” she said.
Meanwhile, local residents said they met Shah and urged him not to suspend the drive. Pankaj Bhave from the Vesave Koli Samaj Trust said he had no idea who abused the volunteers. “We tried to find out. A lot of outsiders visit the beach on Sundays. I have already approached Shah and told him not to suspend the drive,” he said.
We hope this initiative does not see its end here and continues!