Along the Mithi

Photography by Dylan Crawford

The ever-expanding city of Mumbai has put immense pressure on the natural environment. Mumbai’s largest river, the mighty Mithi, now turned into a stormwater drain, wends through the city carrying with it the garbage and the sewage of millions. On its banks is Dharavi, India’s largest slum – the second largest in Asia by some accounts.

Dylan Crawford, follows the river’s 18km journey from Vahir Lake to Mahim Bay, eventually emptying into the Arabian sea. The filth and squalor as seen from the Mithi’s point of view attempts to anthropomorphise the river that was once aptly named ‘sweet’ in the Marathi language.

tWS: A NEW day rises over the Mithi River and for all those who live on its banks. The city comes alive around it and for a moment the river looks beautiful as it reflects the sunrise.

tWS: A MAN cleans his clothes using detergent on the banks of the Mithi River in Mumbai. This is the only method of washing and general cleaning for many. The chemical run-off from their daily chores finds its way to the river. Older Mumbaikars remember swimming in the river as late as the 1980’s, something no one would even dream of doing now. 

tWS: A SIX-meter-high concrete walls separates the river from the surrounding rubbish tip, in a shortsighted attempt to prevent flooding. The 2005 flood devastated Mumbai. The Mithi, clogged with tonnes of garbage, struggled to cope with the 944mm of rain that fell in one day. The river broke its banks, flooding the city and killing 914 people. The floods cost the city a staggering $90 million. The panicked government came up with another band-aid solution, this six-meter-high concrete wall that traps the river and destroyed what was left of the ecosystem including thousands of mangrove trees that fringed its banks. It was the final nail in the coffin. The transformation of Mithi from river to sewage system was now complete

tWS: MATERIAL washes down the river until it reaches Mahim Bay. There it tangles onto the few mangroves that survive this hostile environment

tWS: THE Mithi River was in the way of progress for the city and so was diverted to allow the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, located in the centre of the city, to expand. This destroyed estuaries and low-lying floodplains, increasing the chance of flooding.

tWS: THE Mithi empties into Mahim Bay bringing with it the city’s garbage. A small amount of the rubbish that flows into the Arabian sea washes back on the shores of Mumbai

tWS: BUT the polluted river remains a life-line for some. Immersed waist-deep in festering pollutants, men sifts through the trash found in the Mithi River in the hope of finding  recyclables.

tWS: THE lack of rain in the dry season leaves the river empty, save for small pockets of waste water that pool around the drains of the slums. To prevent the stagnant water from becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes, volunteers use excavators to dig trenches to allow the water to flow. 

tWS: HUNDREDS of volunteers gather at the start of the Mithi River, which is a dry riverbed at this time, to separate the inorganic waste from the mud. The clean-up is organised by Eco-Activist Afroz Shah, in a bid to save Mumbai’s waterways. Shah is well known for his efforts to clean the beaches and rivers of Mumbai. What started as small movement now collects and recycles about 4,000 tons of trash every year.

tWS: A YOUNG volunteer adds to a growing pile of waste gathered while cleaning the riverbed.

tWS: THE polluted Mahim Bay separates  Mumbai’s high-rises from the fishing village slums. 

THE SUN sets on another day on the Mithi, as a garland from a nearby temple mingles with human waste on the river a city forgot.

Dylan Crawford is a final year photojournalism student focused enabling positive social change through visual storytelling. He was a finalist in this year’s Clarion awards for journalistic excellence in Queensland for his portrayal of indigenous protests during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He is particularly interested in documenting environmental social justice issues.


” The winning entry showed a clear understanding of the structure of a story telling essay. The images were strongly composed and had single image impact, inside the story. Each image continued to move the story forward with new information being given to the viewer with little repetition. Overall the work was edited and put together well with a good flow that engaged the viewer through until the end.”

Chris McGrath, Getty Images

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