Once upon a time, there was a magical place, with clear blue seas and powdery beaches, where the tropical sun beat down on an ocean bed that was teeming with wildlife. This place was known as Versova. Perhaps this fairy tale was once a reality but for most of us, Mumbai’s beaches are better known as toxic wastelands to be avoided at all costs. What most of us saw as a potential spot for septicemia lawyer Afroz Shah saw as an opportunity to make a change. Shah has always been a lover of nature and especially the ocean. It pained him to watch a beach with so much potential turn into a public dumping ground, and he was determined that it would be stopped.
In October 2015, he and his 84-year old neighbour Harbansh Mathur began clearing garbage from a stretch of Versova Beach on their days off and unknowingly spearheaded a campaign that would become a worldwide sensation. Soon the Versova Resident Volunteers (VRV) began building up their workforce and soon their were hundreds to aid the process. By January of 2016 they had attracted the attention of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who called it the “world’s largest beach clean-up in history,” at this point they had cleared over 1,800,000 kilograms of plastic, glass and debris from the Versova shoreline.
Just this week, 85 weeks from the day they began the project has finally been declared complete. A horrifying 5.3 million kilograms of trash as been removed from the beach and the waters, which are now unrecognisable in the beauty. His efforts have inspired many and in December he was awarded the UN’s Champions of The Earth award for his unparalleled contribution the oceans. But for Shah, the recognition falls second to the reward of knowing that Versova beach and all its flora and fauna have been given a second lease on life. He’s already in the process of arranging similar projects for all of Mumbai’s beaches, the months of work have paid off and he’s already raring to do it again. And we’re willing to bet he’ll continue to do so until India’s oceans are safe as he says “If you love something, you’ll do anything to save it.”