UN to tie up with Versova beach champs for cleaner seas in India

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By Swati Deshpande

MUMBAI: Last October, United Nations environment chief Erik Solheim said he had “never seen such a horrendous sight”. He was staring at a trash-filled Versova beach. Solheim had pledged support to a citizen’s initiative which he dubbed as “biggest, best plastic clean-up in history”. Six mo- nths and a spruced up Versova beach later, the UN Environment will join hands with the citizens who cleaned the shore to launch a global Clean Seas Campaign in India on World Environment Day, June 5.

Advocate Afroz Shah, who had initiated the clean-up, said, “It is going to be an exciting tie up between UN Environment and the citizens’ movement, now called, Being Ocean Foundation…. Our mission is to rid the ocean of marine litter.” On June 5, the citizens plan to clean Mumbai’s other beaches and get the government on board to minimize marine litter. “There are 19 beaches in Mumbai and the plan is to ensure all are clean,” he said.

Shah and an elderly neighbor Harbansh Mathur took it upon themselves in October 2015 to clean the filthy Versova beach facing their flats. The beach lay hidden beneath a thick layer of garbage. “The pile of plastic filth was up to five feet high,” said Shah. The beach was neglected by visitors and civic administration alike. Within months, Shah’s untiring efforts attracted a dedicated band of volunteers from the neighborhood and elsewhere in Mumbai too. The BMC too shed its apathy and joined in with machines and workers. They became weekend warriors against the litter. The collective efforts paid off with the beach now shinier, its sandy stretches visible and attracting visitors now.
“The World Environment Day is an opportune moment to celebrate the work that ordinary citizens are doing around the country,” Vijay Samnotra, head, UN Environment’s country office in India. “United Nations Environment and other UN entities will join hands with him for the Clean Seas Campaign in India, in a precursor to the World Oceans Day on June 8,” said Samnotra.

“UN Environment is proud of the inspiring and mostly back breaking work that Afroz and his small band of dedicated and selfless volunteers have been doing in Versova. He has shown how commitment and single-minded devotion of an individual to the cause of environment can mobilize citizens in conserving and protecting the environment, he added.
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