Afroz spent his childhood as a ‘Coastal Boy” on the west coast of India. As Afroz says, “The landscape of Mumbai in my early childhood – was dotted with small ponds, clean accessible lakes, clean flowing rivers, healthy and gorgeous mangroves, pristine beaches and ocean free of marine debris.” The young and reclusive Afroz found solace in this ecosystem around him – as he led a troubled childhood of economic depravity. Powai lake, Vihar Lake and River Mithi were clean and easily accessible to him then. Afroz swam in a clean and pristine Versova Beach too.
But as Afroz entered his teens – a problem of immense magnitude involving the coastal ecosystem struck Mumbai. Beaches turned into plastic graveyards. Rivers turned into sewage. Lakes turned into ‘stagnant contaminated water’. Afroz’s love drove him to give meaning to the word “love” meant “rolling up the sleeve” and doing ground action. In the early days of his journey – Afroz worked for the protection of ecological fragile mangroves in Mumbai. Salty water (Tidal) movement into mangroves is a must for its survival. Afroz along with the citizens of Mumbai broke many artificial created bunds among mangroves – which had been constructed to stop the flow of tidal water in these eco sensitive zones. Acres and Acres of mangrove survived and blossomed due to this initiative.
Then came the year 2015 – Advocate Afroz Shah Shifted to Versova (north of Mumbai) from Bandra (South of Mumbai). Afroz’s new resident is on the beach. A property dealer showed him the flat. And Afroz says I saw what I saw – the beaches had up to 5 ft. of marine debris at some places. I had never seen in my life – so much plastic pollution juxtaposed to the ocean. The plastic was up to my earlobes. The first time I saw – “I knew something was drastically wrong and something had to be done urgently.”
That “something” in Afroz’s mind resulted in Afroz and 83 years old Harbansh Mathur stepping on a Sunday morning to clean Versova Beach. Two energetic souls – wanting to be the change. Mahatma Gandhi’s values in its full bloom in the 21st Century, Mumbai. Mumbai with its busy schedule – where time is more important than money – suddenly saw a “Gandhian Movement” – My time, my effort, my money – Springing up to develop into a behemoth tower of sacrifice and love for mother nature and our India.
The beach clean-up attracted the attention of the world. Versova beach became the symbol of the power of citizens – stepping out – wearing gloves – and being the change of what they want to see.
Tackling marine debris, plastic pollution, global warming required a trigger and the beach clean-up became the trigger. As Afroz says “Beach clean-up is misunderstood. Beach clean-up does not mean clean beach. Beach clean-up is to mitigate the problem of marine debris – of plastic entering into the belly of the ocean; through beach clean-up we “learn while doing” i.e., reduce waste at home. Once you pick up waste at the beach, we reduce plastic pollution and global warming, and then probably “a clean beach”. The United Nation labelled Versova beach clean up as “the biggest beach clean-up in world history”. Beach clean-up became the “eyes and ears” of the “keep the oceans and the planet healthy” narrative. One beach clean-up led to another beach clean-up – Dana Paani beach clean-up in Mumbai. But Afroz knew that the problem had to be tackled in a mature, routine, and holistic way i.e. solution and the ground action must be in broad spectrum of – beach clean up to circular economy. The inertia – to not tackle the pollution problem – was both at the individual level and the systemic level. Afroz and his volunteers work on both aspects, individual and systemic level. At one end of the spectrum – individuals – as consumers – were creating undesirable and catastrophic effects on the marine ecosystem – by irresponsible consumption and the habit of littering at government level – both in terms of law and its implementation – were not doing enough or producing enough visible effect. For even a simple arrangement – a clean beach to play, swim and enjoy.
Systems at the level of companies (plastic or otherwise) are grossly inadequate – to deal with garbage generation – reduction of garbage, collection of clean plastic, segregation of plastic and the recycling of plastic. In Afroz’s words “solution to the problem of plastic pollution, global warming, implementation of circular economy must and had to be at the systemic and individual level both. The question of which will drive the drive to – solution – only time will tell.
The period between October till date saw many programs developed, curated and implemented by Afroz and his team – taken lead at the community level in an organic way – to have behavioural change and at the same providing evidence to the government and the companies on “what should a good implementable law” and on “what should be a sound good ground work to be carried out by corporate entities – both plastic and non-plastic to mitigate global warming, plastic pollution and circular economy.
Afroz and his team became the trail blazers on the issue of health of the ocean, the marine ecosystem, circular economy and waste management.
Afroz divided this work in three stages: