When I dialled Chinu Kwatra to congratulate him this morning, a tired voice greeted me. He had been up since 8:30 am after a few hours of sleep. What is so unusual about the situation? Most of us get up early, right?
Well, Chinu hadn’t slept a wink for over 45 hours since Saturday. Because the Thane-based social activist, in association with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), and over 1,500+ volunteers, created history with India’s first-of-its-kind 24-hour beach clean up.
These beach warriors led by Chinu cleared over 200 tonnes of garbage from the Worli Fort in a matter of 24 hours, thus proving that Mumbai isn’t losing its dream of having garbage-free beaches anytime soon.
In an exclusive interview with The Better India, Chinu speaks about the journey to transform the Dadar and Worli beaches since 2017.
Chinu’s team – Beach Warriors India, has been involved in the Dadar beach cleanup for over 11 months now. They kickstarted the Worli village cleanup only five months ago under the banner WOW Worli.
“The reason for choosing Worli village was clear. When we were cleaning the Dadar beach, we also simultaneously started conducting surveys and getting to the cause of increasing garbage on beaches from the sea. It was at the time that we realised that a lot of residential garbage and construction debris was being dumped near the Worli Fort, which was taken in by the waves during high tides and later thrown out on the other beaches. Another reason was also that the Worli Fort is a popular tourist spot, which made it easier to relay venue and time for the cleanup drive to get volunteers.”
With the support of Deputy Mayor Hemangi Worlikar, who is also a resident of Worli, Chinu’s team would go the beach every Saturday and do the cleanup for two hours in the morning. But the cleanup wasn’t happening on a large scale. Even the locals were clueless since some NGOs had come and gone, and nothing had changed.
It was at the time that Chinu got in touch with Aditya Thackeray and got talking about what to do next for Worli.
He says, “Our focus was to create awareness and get tonnes of garbage cleared. And the rains were the best time to do that and beautify the fort with plants too. Aditya was the one who came up with the idea of a 24-hour cleanup, and I decided to execute it. We had to plan it meticulously since it required manpower.
While they faced challenges, they stood undeterred. Chinu requested Thackeray to ensure his team got the required support from MCGM for equipment and thus began a week-long plan.
“We decided to divide the 24 hours at hand into two-hour slots. We roped in some colleges, government schools, NSS units, locals of Worli village and our volunteers. Within a week, our plan was ready, and the date was set to 14th-15th July 2018.”
The cleanup began at 8 am on 14th July and was designed like a marathon, where, in addition to refreshments, the volunteers were also given certificates at the completion of their slots.
While their recycling partner was REBOT, the Tirumala-Tirupati Multistate Co-op Credit Society sponsored the refreshments and gloves.
“By 10 am, over 200 people had gathered. And so we divided the Worli Fort into three zones so that people could spread out and do the cleanup. While Aditya Thackeray joined us for a slot, the Yuva Sena kept coming in every two hours. Even those working on the weekend came in during their breaks. Until 8 pm, the crowd did not stop. Forty-five of our beach warriors stayed back through the 24 hours. At midnight, with the halogen lights, the Fort looked like a lit stadium.
“As we delved into midnight, we weren’t sure if the volunteers would wait. Some of them had been there since 6:30 am! To avoid them from getting burnt out, we divided 45 of them into three groups. And each of these groups worked for an hour each. This helped the other groups get a breather for two hours each,” adds Chinu.
In this manner, the groups cleared garbage until 6 am. They were later joined by another cleanup group, Beach Please, and worked until 8 am. The successful cleanup drive cleared 200 tonnes of garbage and ended with the national anthem, a vote of thanks to all volunteers and contributors, and a victory dance session.
“I was surprised that despite breaking their backs for 24 hours, they had the energy to dance. I guess their passion for a cleaner Mumbai gave them the strength,” Chinu observes.
The volunteers included over 300 employees from Tirumala Tirupati Multistate Co-op Credit Society, the Amukh Charitable Trust, Beach Please, Green Yuva, Red Boys Foundation, the Dadar Police Station, municipal school students, students from colleges like S M Shetty, Vidya Prasarak Mandal, Kelkar, Gyansadhna, Ratnam, Menon, DAV, Thakur, Maharshi Dayanand, Dalmia, Mulund College of Commerce, SIES, Laxmichand Golwala College, Valia CL, Kishanchand Chellaram and HR (Hassaram Rijhumal) and Worli locals.
All the garbage that was collected was then carried by the MCGM to the dump yards and landfills. Before disposal, the plastic waste was segregated and sent for recycling.
Chinu’s team has cleared 300 tonnes of garbage from the Dadar beach in the last 45 weeks.
And apart from the 200 tonnes of garbage cleared on the 24-hour cleanup drive at Worli, they have cleared an additional 50 tonnes of garbage in the last 20 weeks.
“On a rainy weekend, when people would prefer travelling to Lonavala than the office, every one of the volunteers turned up at the Worli Fort and worked with us, selflessly. My only request to people is to support each other’s social initiatives. Don’t pull each other down,” notes Chinu.
Speaking on the criticism he has received from some citizens, he says, “I have received several hate messages claiming that cleaning beaches is not my job and that I am trying to make the BMC lethargic. But to be honest, when I see garbage on the beach, I know that it isn’t only the BMC that is responsible for it. It is people like us who dump that garbage on these beaches in the first place. And I firmly believe in ‘Mera Kachra Meri Zimmedari’.”
In a final message to Mumbaikars, he says,
“The cleanup project does not aim to undermine anybody but to make people aware that if we can do it, so can they. Nobody is telling you to travel all the way to help us. Do it in your area. When you make a simple choice of not dumping your garbage in the gutters or on the beaches, you are helping us indirectly. And so, it is okay if you cannot physically contribute to the cleanup. Spread awareness against open littering. Don’t overlook someone dumping on open spaces. If you don’t want to sound preachy, pick up the garbage that someone has thrown and put it in the bin in front of them. At least that will make them realise their civic responsibility.”
Before we sign off, it is also important to point out that the 24-hour cleanup has qualified for the Limca Book of Records and will appear in its upcoming December 2018 issue! We salute Chinu and every volunteer who is trying to bring back the sanctity of our beaches. Mumbai is proud of you!
Want to be a part of the beach clean up? Get in touch with Chinu on WhatsApp at 97691 81218. Check out the Beach Warriors on Facebook here.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)