Krishna Prakash, IPS, additional director general of police (Force One) |
Rahul Kawde is founder-president of the Swaccha Vasundhara Abhiyaan, which conducts awareness drives and clean-ups of Mumbai’s mangroves
Rahul Nagnath Kawde grew up in a village in Nanded district. “I walked 2 km to school everyday, through a forest and across a hillock,” he said. “It was like growing up in the lap of nature.”
Then, while preparing for the state services examination, Kawde was introduced to geography and fell in love with the subject. “It had everything I am interested in, and it explained the world we see around us beautifully,” he said.
In 2021, when floods wreaked havoc in the Konkan or coastal region of Maharashtra, Kawde recalled seeing a news report on a Marathi channel. “Amidst the pictures and videos of devastation, there was this one village that had escaped the worst only because they had taken care of their mangroves. It stayed with me,” he recounted.
With a team of fellow youth, all from different backgrounds with deep scientific knowledge about the environment, Kawde started focusing on the flora around Carter Road in Bandra. "Everyone focused on the beach clean-up but no one saw the way the mangroves were clogged in the area,” he said. He started to visit the mangroves every Sunday with a few friends and began to clean the shrubs that were clogged with discarded clothes, footwear, bags, plastic trash, bottles and more.
Then, amid a fresh spike in environmental degradation as the lockdowns were lifted, Kawde and a group of friends, most of them students, registered their non-profit, named Swaccha Vasundhara Abhiyaan, in May 2021.
Under Swaccha Vasundhara, Kawde has undertaken several campaigns to spread awareness and gather people to participate in the mangrove clean-ups. “Eventually we signed MoUs with the forest department and mangrove cell to organise clean-ups. Now, we have people offering to do clean-ups with us,” Kawde said.
Besides mangrove plantation and cleaning, Swaccha Vasundhara also has a programme to save sparrows, whose population has been on the decline in cities on account of loss of habitat, absence of native plants, widespread use of concrete, etc. Kawde’s conservation mission to save sparrows works by providing bird houses and bird feeders.
Another programme they conduct is the ‘pollution-free ride’ to promote the use of bicycles, public transport and walking as well as car-pooling and car-free days. Kawde was recently awarded with a special certificate from the Mangrove Foundation for the collective efforts of the Swachha Vasundhara Abhiyaan team.
Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Krishna Prakash, an ultra marathoner who has completed the Ironman and Ultraman challenges besides major other sporting achievements, was present at one of the mangrove clean-up drives. “They organise the clean-ups on weekends, and they have the appropriate clothing and they step into the mangroves during low tide and undertake the cleaning work,” he said.
Kawde says there are some groups who gather on beach fronts and take photos before dispersing. “There is a need for a long term change in the attitudes of people,” he said. “We need to be more mindful of the environment around us and how we can give back.”