MUMBAI : The sight of a Mumbai submerged in water every monsoon may soon be a thing of the past.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is helping clean up Mumbai’s Mithi, or the Mahim, river, which causes flooding in the central suburbs during the monsoon.

The oil-to-telecom conglomerate has joined hands with activist Afroz Shah to clean up the Mithi. This, after RIL and Shah, came together to clean up the Versova beach last year.

“We are now working on making Mithi, Mithi again. It is still early days and may take a few years, but the point is unless you start, nothing is going to happen," said Vipul Shah, chief operating officer of the petrochemicals division of RIL.

Mithi flows through 17.84km before meeting the Arabian Sea at the Mahim creek. It starts at the Vihar and Powai lakes and passes through several areas of Mumbai’s suburbs.

The river, which served as a stormwater drain and would drain away excess rainwater around the city into the Arabian Sea, has been blocked with sewage and waste. This led to the Mumbai deluge in 2005, too. However, 14 years down the line, nothing much has changed on the ground for the Mithi river.

Mumbai-based Shah who took the lead to clean Versova beach has now shifted focus to the river.

“In November 2018 we started the work of the rejuvenation of Mithi," Afroz Shah said, adding that there are primarily three problems—one, solid waste, including plastic waste; second, liquid waste comprising blackwater, or residential and industrial waste, entering the river; and third is the mindset of people living around the river who dump garbage in the waterbody. “We need to work on all three fronts," he added.

Shah’s team has so far cleared 1.25km of the river. The team is addressing the issue at two levels—generation and treatment of solid waste; and a circular economy, wherein they are teaching local residents how to reduce garbage generation and how to treat it once it is generated.

“Tearing cheques is easy. But we need people and their time to deal with such issues and RIL’s employees are committed to the cause. They come in batches of 50 and 100 every weekend to help us," said Afroz Shah.

Local residents from the vicinity of the Mithi have now been trained to wash the plastic before disposing it. Besides, awareness campaigns have been initiated to tell people why they should not litter.

“They had lost a sense of belongingness to the river," said Afroz Shah, but now the residents of Filterpada slum near Vihar Lake, where the river originates, have stopped dumping plastic waste into the waterbody.

According to a December 2018 report prepared by the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay and the National environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), along with two independent experts, encroachments, reclamation, indiscriminate dumping of industrial effluents and solid waste made Mithi ‘an open drain’, thus leaving the city vulnerable to a deluge similar to the one on 26 July 2005.

“The issue with any river is two-fold—one, to clean and, more importantly, to address how to stop new wastage from flowing into the river. So, at every Reliance Foundation School, we have had sessions where we call families and educate them on the whole social fabric of what is recycling and why it is required, and what is an individual’s role in it," said Vipul Shah.

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