Mumbai Struggles to Clean Up Its Most Polluted Mithi River

Mumbai booming population and rapidly expanding urban areas have exacted a huge toll on Mithi river, which is badly polluted and choked by development.

The Mithi River is also known as “‘Mahim River”‘. Over the decades, the river has been systematically ravaged by dumping of raw sewage, industrial waste, settlements along its banks, and governmental neglect.

Image: // Retaining walls along the river near its origin at Vihar lake.

What destroyed Mumbai’s Mithi River?

‘Mithi’ means sweet in Hindi, but the story surrounding the Mithi River has increasingly soured over the decades. The Mithi river flows 18 km before draining at Mahim Bay and into the Arabian Sea and is a critical stormwater drain for Mumbai.

One of the oldest rivers in Maharashtra, the Mithi is now nothing more than a sewage drain. The polluted river and the destruction of mangroves are cited as one of the primary reasons for 2005, the deluge in Mumbai.

The government has spent crores of rupees on the Mithi river revival program, but the river still carries the highest amount of fecal coliform (FC) content — a bacterium found in human and animal feces.

Image: Reuters // Mithi river has 16 times the permissible level of fecal content.

The fecal coliform content is almost 16 times the permissible levels for a river.

According to the data collected in the first three months of 2018, fecal coliform content in Mithi river near the bridge was as high as 1,600/100 ml. The permissible limit is 100/100 ml, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

A Fortress of Slums

The river flows through various slum clusters including Asia’s largest slum—Dharavi. Almost 70% of the river banks are occupied by lakhs of slum units from where domestic waste and even open defecation waste flows into the river.

Image: // Household waste entering Mithi in the slums of Bhim Nagar.

Moreover, several small-scale industries in these slum clusters pollute the river with their quite often toxic waste. The toxic chemical waste released by industries, along with the innumerable truckloads of debris being unloaded into the river, need to be severely dealt with.

Even before that, the slum dwellers around the river must be rehabilitated somewhere close to their source of livelihoods and yet away from the river.

The Mithi’s crowded banks point to the social challenges of these cleanup efforts, especially in a city where half the population lives in slums.

Says; Yale Environment 360

Changing Mindset

Cleaning is just one aspect of the plan. The Mithi River can be cleaned only by changing the mindset of the people who are working and living along with it.

Image: Getty Images // A woman and her son cross the Mithi River in Mumbai.

Afroz Shah, a Mumbai-based lawyer spearheaded the largest beach clean-up drive in the city. He Says, The bigger challenge is to instill a sense of belonging among residents. The lack of a garbage disposal system in the slums forces them to fling solid waste into the river.

‘We need to sensitise the locals living around these areas’, says Afroz.

“Having cleaned Versova beach for three years, we were also training people on how to handle garbage. We believe in circular economy, which stresses on garbage reduction philosophy and recycling. The boys we’ve trained have taken it up as a movement and now, teach others too. Cleaning is one, but without community development it is of no use,” he stresses.

Photo: AFP // Afroz Shah (in black) during a Versova beach clean-up in December 2017.

The Status Today

The deadlines for the Mithi rejuvenation programme are usually missed. The authorities have maintained that the river will be rejuvenated by 2020. Despite all the hype, there is much to be done.

The right use of technology, coupled with the political and administrative will, can certainly help achieve some of the targets, but this would still not solve the crux of the problem which makes the Mithi River’s ‘restoration’ is far more complex than it seems.

Read: Indore: The Under-Estimated Task of Kahn River Restoration

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