Around 200 people, including former starlet and socialite Pooja Bedi, have alleged that their weekly clean-up drive at the Versova beach on Sunday was ruined by a massive stage on the Versova Jetty Road, which blocked the vehicles meant for garbage disposal.
The group, comprising Versova residents, said that the stage was built for a road-naming ceremony that was attended by senior Shiv Sena leaders, Member of Parliament (MP) Gajanan Kirtikar and corporator Yashodhar Phanse. The residents further alleged that the plan to rid the beach of five lakh kg rubbish couldn’t be executed as the stage was dismantled only in the evening, after they tweeted their grievances to Aaditya Thackeray.
The Sena leaders said that the event was organised by the Versova Koli community, and that the cleanup drive had “complete support” of the party. The residents, however, said that they had requested the organisers to not create the stage at the Versova Jetty Road.
“The stage had blocked the entire access road. The organisers also threatened our volunteers and forced them to send back the excavators and dumper trucks. We protested on Saturday itself but the stage wasn’t dismantled. The excavators could be brought to the beach only on Sunday evening and we could only do a fraction of the work,” Pooja Bedi said.
Afroz Shah, a Bombay High Court lawyer who played a crucial role in forming the group, ‘Versova Resident Volunteers’, which has been cleaning the beach for the last several months, said the group had collected 66,000 kg garbage, but with the machines gone, they were “left helpless”.
“The event organisers forced the BMC staff to leave with the excavators and dumper trucks. With no response from the Sena leaders, we tweeted our concerns to Aaditya Thackeray, who responded,” Shah said, adding that Parag Masurkar, the assistant municipal commissioner from the ward, was also part of the clean-up drive.
Yashodhar Phanse said that the group members contacted him, and he assured them of all support. “The function was organised by the local Koli community. In fact, the Sena cleared the jetty road and made it accessible. The party and the BMC are backing the residents’ drive and we will support them with manpower and equipment,” Phanse said. He further said that he had asked the organisers to dismantle the stage as soon as the function got over.
The residents, however, are far from convinced. “Is it legal to block the entire access road to the jetty and also prevent the BMC machinery from accessing the beach? What if a boat capsizes? How will the emergency services reach the jetty in that case? Why isn’t the BMC taking action against those who erected the stage?” Pooja Bedi questioned.