Across the globe, the last Sunday of September every year is celebrated as ‘World Rivers Day’. Well, I really don’t know if we in Mumbai have any reason to celebrate when it comes to rivers, given the fact that our rivers in Mumbai are in such a pathetic state – especially the Mithi that flows through a significant part of the city. At best, this putrefied flowing embarrassment – that sets out from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, and 18 kms later meets the Arabian Sea at the Mahim Creek – can be described as a sewer.
So what has caused this once delightful river to have metamorphosed into this disgusting sewer? As India’s ‘Waterman’ and Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh pointed out, “It is the collective apathy of the people of Mumbai, absence of political will, and administrative lethargy, that are all responsible for the current oppressive state of the Mithi”.
“Collective Apathy”, how true – for indeed ‘indifference’ is our middle name. This collective indifference, springs from our Collective Ignorance. I wonder how many of us living in this chaotic megapolis are even aware of the existence of the Mithi. Probably we are just vaguely conscious that some river called the Mithi flows through the city; but do we even know its course, or would be able to actually point it out? Two years back we did a programme called ‘Meet the Mithi’ – on seeing the poster announcing the event, someone wrote to me asking “What is a mithi?” Our ignorance obviously breeds indifference.
And then there is our Collective Indiscipline. We litter, we dump garbage, we pollute, we destroy and we care a damn! In fact this has got so crystallized into our character that we don’t even realize the damage we are causing. And so we go about callously converting the Mithi into a filth stream. From the religious devotee who piously flings the ‘flower offerings’ (plastic bag and all) into the river, to the unscrupulous factory owner who pumps hazardous industrial waste into it; from the hardworking housewives washing clothes of the banks of the Mithi, to the hundreds of nearby inhabitants who blissfully crap into it every day – this gross indiscipline has turned Mumbai’s best known river into a grisly gutter.
But no, we've not reached the end of the road, or rather, the end of the river. People like Janak Daftari, Rishi Agarwal and Gautam Kirtane have been fighting the Mithi battle for long. And on World Rivers Day we celebrate their determination, their fight. And hopefully their fight will become our fight too.