New Delhi, June 9, 2017: Mumbai, India’s financial capital and also the richest city, was ranked as the fifth most polluted megacity in the world, by a WHO survey in 2016. Yet proving that concerted and committed citizen action can make a difference, Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah and his team have spent over 85 weeks cleaning up Versova beach in North Mumbai.
This week on Off Centre, Anuradha SenGupta speaks to Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah who has been bestowed with UN’s top environmental accolade – Champions of the Earth award and has also been mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat radio broadcast. On the show, he speaks about a plethora of topics – from the stereotype of an indifferent Mumbaikar to the sustainability of his model and how he galvanized Mumbaikars to clean the city beach.
On stereotype of an indifferent Mumbaikar, he says that the problem is about the narrative in our country which is that the citizens pay their taxes, give a checklist to the government and simply want them to act, without realizing that there are some duties of citizens as well. He says, “If I go back as a lawyer to my constitution which I have studied well, which I have practised in the court, you have the duties of the government which the government obviously has to do and we all will tell the government to do it. But there are duties of citizens as well and protecting the environment is one of the biggest things. How long are we going to wait for the government? 70 years of independence, they may come, they may not come, they may do it, they may not do it. I don’t know about all that but what I know is this is my planet, my ocean, my country. I have two hands and I can spare two hours in a week.”
A supporter of a participative democracy where one gets involved and contributes side-by-side with the government, Shah thinks that for this kind of work to continue in other places, the community has to get involved with the local municipality. “I am symbolic of what is happening just because I started it and I am pushing it right now but all my volunteers are ready. People who have come to clean the beaches have not come here for an event. What I want to trigger in other beaches is not me. Maybe one Afroz Shah will rise there. Let multiple Afroz Shahs rise everywhere. If you detach yourself from the government then this won’t work. Then the narrative becomes as us vs them. It’s inclusive. There’s a problem, a huge problem and we have to work hard for it and I am looking at all the stakeholders coming on board.”
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