CLEANING THE MITHI RIVER; FROM SEWER TO RIVER WITH AFROZ SHAH ONE METRE AT A TIME
It’s taken one man to galvanise the city of Mumbai again!
Afroz Shah, lone Environment warrior, who leads by quiet example!
We saw him at Dana-paani beach knee deep in the sand digging out plastic and other waste!
And where he goes young people follow!
Now he is at Filterpada Best Nagar Slum at the origin of the Mithi River…just a kilometre downstream of it where the river has already started to turn into a sewer by the spewing of human waste and other effulgents directly into what should have been a pristine river!
It’s being done by hand; it’s painstaking, slow and requires a lot of determination that you don’t often get to see often!
In this day of instant gratification here’s a lawyer who wears his fame as an environment warrior as lightly as his Advocate’s degrees…the United Nations Award for Champions Of The Earth is “an instrument to inspire everyone to care for our river, our ocean and our city”
He just has to post a time and date on his Facebook Account and a hundred College Students turn up to help!
“Now we have a roster system for Colleges because too many people end up getting in each other’s way”
And the sorrow of Mumbai the Mithi River (most of Mumbai woke up to the fact that they had a river among them when the overflow from the river drowned most of the suburbs on July 26, 2005…before that most of Mumbai had never heard of something as outlandish as a river among them)
So now to work…
Every Sunday Morning 9 to 11 these days because kids have exams at Filterpada Slum to catch the excrement right here in the Active Charcoal filters placed strategically in front of the latrine waste pouring out of the Slum…
And it seems to work..
By the time the shit water flows out of the second filtration plant (that looks like a four chambered open chest with active charcoal surrounded by a special kind of grass whose roots go down 3 metres into the ground) it’s clear and wonder of wonders has no smell!
“The template is here; if only the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) can now use these natural filtration plants in every slum half the health problems and pollution problems will just go away”
But Afroz’s greatest achievement…young men from the slums have joined up to clean up and turn the sewer into a river..
As they say “our fathers and grandfathers say they used to cook with the water of this river; now we can’t even wash our hands in it..we shall have pistules growing on our hands in a couple of days”
Afroz jibes in “we are cleaning this one metre at a time, one kilometre in a month and a half..in five years we shall complete 18 kilometres “
And I believe him…he cleaned the world’s dirtiest beach by starting alone and soon enough an Army Of Environment warriors joined him and turned the sands and oceans into their pristine purity of 70 years ago…in fact for the first time in 20 years Olive Ridley turtles returned to Versova beach and began using it as a nesting ground!
The Mithi river itself originates from the overflow of Vihar Lake and also receives the overflows from the Powai Lake about 2 km later. It flows for a total of 18 km before it meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim Creek flowing through residential and industrial complexes of Powai, Saki Naka, Kurla, Kalina, Vakola, Bandra-Kurla complex, Dharavi and Mahim. The river has an average width of 5 metres in the upper reaches, has been widened to 25 m in the middle reaches and up to 70 m in the lower reaches after 26 July 2005 deluge (944 mm in 24 h on 26 July 2005).
It is also less well known that the Mahim bay area, where Mithi River meets Arabian Sea is a nominated bird sanctuary where migratory birds come for nesting. This part is full of mangroves.
When the river was not as polluted as it is today, it used to serve as an important storm water drain for Mumbai but as it has been used as a sewer over the years, its importance as a storm water drain has reduced and on the contrary, it poses as a hazard during high tide bringing polluted water into the city and flooding the city.
The river has been polluted by dumping of raw sewage, industrial waste and municipal waste into the river.
Besides this, illegal activities like washing vessels, animals and oily drums, discharge of unauthorised hazardous waste are also carried out along the course of this river. Cattle sheds in some areas contribute animal waste.
Barrel cleaners, scrap dealers and others dump sludge oil, effluent and garbage in the river.
The organic waste, sludge and garbage dumping has reduced the carrying capacity of the river.
The water with mixture of sewage and industrial waste is a threat to marine life. The river bed is full of sludge, garbage and vegetation growth like water hyacinth in many parts.
The city of Mumbai earned the epithet – ‘Cottonopolis of India’ due to its vibrant cotton textile mills.
The mills over the years have utilized water from this river and dumped their waste into it leading to the present polluted state of the river.
Will Afroz and Mumbai succeed?
I am sure he will…in spite of all the odds!
What can you do?
Turn up at 9 in the morning at Filterpada wear a pair of gloves and gum boots and start cleaning up!