0102 GMT November 21, 2019
They may not have jogged, but they picked up plastic litter at Versova, and later at Dana Pani beaches, before watching a beautiful sunset, their bodies glistening, hearts still racing and minds glowing with a “sense of ”, as Champion of Earth Afroz Shah said “exhilaration”. Modi had last year tweeted, “My friend Afroz is an inspiration to the country,” indiatimes.com wrote.
“This is our 208th weekend cleaning and it’s not just a clean-up of beaches, but also training people to adopt circular economy and change in mindsets to not litter, and for industries to be responsible towards nature,” said Shah, who received UN’s highest environment honor as Earth Champ in 2016, two years before Modi.
He added, “The focus is to take our mission ahead. And our mission is to rid the ocean of marine litter.’’
As he picked up more sand-filled milk packets and tea packs at Dana Pani in Malad, Shah told Times of India, “PM Modi as highest civilian authority stepping out on a beach to pick up plastic litter sends a hugely powerful positive message to the country, that if he can do it every citizen can. His act today is the embodiment of a citizen’s duty towards protection and preservation of environment.”
Thousands of children from 66 schools in the city picked up plastic bottles, shampoo sachets, chips packets and plastic bags. Jay Mishra and two bus-loads of Billabong high school students were at Dana Pani in the evening. They said they were happy with what the PM did as it was their first time at the clean-up. Other schools like Ryan International and Vibgyor are regulars, as are students of MMERC, a school for religious scholars, at the clean-up.
There were also top politicians from across continents on the beaches of India. Norway Foreign Minister Jens Frolich Holte and Harald Solberg, CEO of Norwegian Shipping Association, were at Versova, accompanied by their consul general in Mumbai, Ann Olestaad.
Holte said, “We are cleaning the beach with friend Afroz Shah, and we must take better care of our seas. Norway and India are in it together.”
Solberg thanked Shah for his “strong work and passion” and promised to “help with the ocean clean-up” in keeping with his April assurance in Oslo.
Shah said that since the start, with help from dedicated volunteers, they pulled out 30 million kilograms of plastic and other trash in Mumbai from two beaches and Mithi River.
Former UN environment chief Erik Solheim was the first to arrive on Oct. 2, 2016, and had pledged support to a citizen’s initiative which he dubbed as “the biggest and the best plastic clean-up in history’’.
It led to an international tie-up between India and Norway earlier this year. The two countries, for the first time, signed an MoU to tackle marine pollution as a three-year initiative from 2019 to 2021.
A former minister for international development and ocean, Nicolai Astrup, now digitalization minister in Norway, also said he intends to assist with the scaling up of the initiative in Mumbai that focuses on adopting circular economy from ocean waste.
The clean-up in Versova was a trend-setter acknowledged by world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, who met Shah in October 2018 in Sochi. Putin commended Shah on his “emotional appeal” and perseverance and exhorted him to “continue to do the good work”.
The ban on single-use plastic for Maharashtra had its birth as an idea on the beach during the clean-up and Shah helped provide legal guidance in framing the law. Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray joined in cleanups several times and praised the campaign on social media.
UN Environment had in February 2017 launched its Clean Seas program. The launch followed Solheim’s visit to the Versova beach clean-up, which he and earlier UN Oceans Advocate Lewis Pugh described as “inspirational’’. UN environment said, “Up to 80 pecent of litter in our oceans is made of plastic.’’