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Benzene pollution level 5000% higher, is life threatening in Mumbai's industry-intensive Mahul rehab site


By Bilal Khan et al*
The Maharashtra government recently assured the Bombay High Court that Mahul is safe and habitable, ignoring the health issues frequently faced by people living in the region. This assurance is, in fact, fraudulent and even contradicts the state government’s own previous statements and studies.
The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board’s (MPCB’s) report on high level of pollution in the area and the National Green Tribunal’s observations are proof that the place is uninhabitable.

The housing minister, too, has stated categorically that the place is uninhabitable. Further, police personnel and Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) staff have refused accommodation in Mahul because of the grave health hazards. In spite, of this the state government has been relocating people from various localities to Mahul.
More than hundred people have already died in Mahul over the last three years because of pollution. Most of them became ill after being forcibly relocated here and contracted illness from extreme pollution, becoming incurably sick, and some eventually died. More and more people are complaining that they have contracted severe illnesses after moving to Mahul due to unacceptably high levels of pollutions.
Mahul is among one of the most industrially-dense locations in Maharashtra. Three of the nation’s oldest and largest refineries, one of the largest fertilizer producing complexes of Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers Ltd (RCF) and Tatas’ thermal power turbine units, are all located here.
Additionally, Mahul has amongst the largest storing facilities for processed chemicals, many of which are listed as carcinogenic. The housing complex the the state government has set up is in violation of the regulations of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) guidelines and court orders.
The safe zone distance from the hazardous facility – recommended minimum is 25 kilometers away – has not been adhered to. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) housing complex is literally at the boundary of the Bharat Petroleum Mumbai Refinery (BPCL) refinery, at a mere 35 metres distance – a far cry from the mandated distance as prescribed by even government agencies.
Given the concentration of the facilities and the scale of operations, any evacuation plan will be inadequate in case of an emergency leading to leakage of gases or fire. There is a constant threat to health and life of Mahul residents. In 2003, Mahul was identified as a toxic hotspot similar to what Bhopal was after the Union Carbide disaster.
A study conducted by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found that the level of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)-Benzene was 158 ug/cum during daytime and 248 ug/cum as on January 1, 2018 in Mahul, as against the permissible limit of 5ug/cum by NAAQS, 2009. This means that the level of Benzene is 3,160% to 5,160% higher than the permissible limit. Exposure to this level of Benzene is life threatening. The ground around the complex is seeping with VOCs, and this gets into the water pipelines leading to serious diseases.
The Bombay High Court’s order to make Tansa pipeline encroachment free led to those residents being evicted and settled here. The court ordered the government to properly rehabilitate the eligible Tansa residents. However, the government, instead of rehabilitating them in true sense, dumped them in Mahul, where even basic amenities are absent.
Additionally there is extreme pollution, causing hazard to life and health there too. The absence of basic amenities like schooling, hospitals, employment opportunities have further made life in Mahul hell for residents. Residents say that absence of amenities notwithstanding, it is the extreme health hazard that makes them want to move out of Mahul.
The government move to spend Rs 29 crore on bettering the amenities there will be a complete waste, as health hazard due extreme pollution continues to plague Mahul. Pollution is the major reason for the residents wanting to vacate Mahul.
---
*With Rekha Ghadge, Anita Dhole, BR Verma and Nandu Shinde of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA)

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