Disgusting to Fabulous: Beach India had a dramatic transformation

It’s hard to believe, but this pristine beach was considered until recently as one of the dirtiest beaches in Mumbai.

Versova’s dramatic transformation from vile to fabulous has gone viral in India, where social media users have praised the role of local volunteers in helping in the colossal effort.

They were led by the young lawyer and environmentalist Afroz Shah and the volunteers collected an amazing 5.3 million kilos of trash and plastic in decomposition in a stretch of 2.5 kilometers of beach during a period of 21 months.

“I moved to my new apartment two years ago and saw plastics on the beach – it was more than 10 meters high. A man could drown in plastic, “Shah told CNN. “I said: I’m going to come to the field and do something, I have to protect my environment and it requires action in the field.”

Shah, 33, started cleaning the beach in 2015 with the help of a neighbor. Over time, he was joined by more than 1,000 volunteers, including local residents of Versova, slum dwellers, politicians, Bollywood celebrities and school children.

Volunteers have also cleaned 52 public toilets on the beach and planted 50 palms. Shah says he wants to plant 5,000 coconut trees there and turn it into a “coconut lagoon like it used to be.”

“What I do is pick up plastic, that’s how I’ve been spending my weekends since 2015 and I love it,” Shah said.

‘Made in’ Dharavi

Inhabited by a million people, this Indian suburb is one of the largest in the world.

Dharavi is there, in front of our noses, so we can see him even if we do not want to. 15 minutes from the tourist center of the city, in the bowels of Bombay (India), sits this informal neighborhood inhabited by a million people. Dharavi occupies one of the most sought-after and coveted land in the city, without – apparently – some change coming.

While a group of visitors in the area is engaged in a discussion about whether or not it is the largest settlement in Asia, there are still trucks entering with 80% of the city’s recyclable waste, which exceeds 21 million of settlers, in all its metropolitan area.

There plastics are crushed and decolonized from all types of packaging and become large reusable folds. This labyrinthine slum (once occupied by fishermen), also concentrates dozens of tanneries that transform the skin of the goats into the animal that appeals to the fashion brand of the day.

From the goat will be polished leathers, and from them will come purses or jackets “that will never be used in India but in Europe”, explains Mr. Dan, a veteran of the business.

In the heart of Dharavi life moves by sectors and by items, as if it were a large industrial park submerged in illegality, maintained on the basis of bribes and a chain of accomplices that workers “will never name,” says Dan.

– How much does the boy who melts metals earn?

– That’s illegal – Dan replies in a serious tone even if it looks like sarcasm.

– Well, everything is illegal, maybe that’s even more risky, much more, right?

– Yes, yes – responds our interlocutor – that young person you see there knows that he will live, at most, about 50 years.

He works inside a dark room with dirt floor and a hole in the center, from which comes an incandescent fire and a stench that is pure poison. Next to him, a young man removes melted scrap at times. Without any protection. His eyes are red and he can not speak. With his chest heaving he breathes as anyone who brings his lungs to this scum would breathe.

At the insistence, the veteran reveals the metal boy’s profit: 180 Indian rupees the eight-hour day. Little more than two euros. What are you doing with that metal? Among other things, the cans with which the biscuits are packed, which the Indians like so much. “But nobody knows they are from Dharavi,” the guide laments. Mr. Dan walks with ease, knows every corner and the workers know him. Here is the king. Suddenly, he points out some large ovens. Food industry, we read. “Surely, you will have eaten some of these cookies, but nobody knows they are from Dharavi,” he insists, this time laughing.

Everything is illegal and everything is known, but it is not touched. How does Dharavi survive the ravages of the real estate market in Mumbai, the richest city in India? It does so on the basis of bribes and contributions to the growth of the economy. Mister Dan thus details it without circumlocutions. “These floors are worth as much as those in New York.”

According to data provided by the BBC, Dharavi generates around 650 million dollars per year. Dan points out that the local government has tried to offer, on more than one occasion, decent housing to the residents of this slum. “But the house, if there is no work, is not valid,” he adds.

An average of four or five people per family come to live in rooms of 10 to 20 square meters whose only ventilation comes from the narrow passages, seen and reviewed in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Since most do not have sanitation, Mr. Dan rents his toilet. “Every morning a long line of people is formed with the toothbrush in their hands.”

– You rent it? And how much does it charge?

Silence. The player follows the game that he knows best: he does not respond when it does not suit him. Dan is now distracted when a few moments ago he had commented on the fraternity and the great gallantry that united the inhabitants of Dharavi.

– And how much do those more than 600 million dollars a year mean for the city, Mr. Dan?

– I do not know, but from here, nobody has been able to move us.