Skip to main content

Mumbai's "dangerous" rehab site: There isn't even an evacuation road should any untoward accident occur

Filth between Mahul's buildings, making them completely unhygienic
By Gajanan Khergamker*
On October 28, 2018, around 200 Project Affected People (PAPs) staged an indefinite sit-in in front of Gate No 2 of Somaiya College in Vidyavihar, their original location, from where they were shifted to Mahul. An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Mumbai inception report on the issue only validates their fears. And, this time around, they are firm, they're just not going back to the hell that risks engulfing their very existence.
Starting October 1, 2018, as directed by the Bombay High Court, the state government had begun the process of relocating around 5,500 families suffering from excessive air and water pollution in Chembur’s Mahul area. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) officials held a meeting in this regard with representatives of the affected families, assuring them of 300 houses in the first phase of relocation.
It was on August 8, 2018 that the High Court had given the October 1 ultimatum to the state government to decide on accommodation for affected people. The government can offer them reasonable amount for rent for residences till the issue at Mahul village is resolved, the court had said.
The issue in question being a grave violation of their basic human rights. The quality of water appeared “contaminated”; the space between residential buildings was “used as a dump yard posing serious threat to the health of inhabitants,”; a real “risk of water supply getting contaminated with grey water” and Mahul’s inhabitants being forced to keep windows shut due to “excessive spilling of sewage and grey water and foul smell”. 
Mahul buildings with BPCL Refinery in the backdrop
This and more were revealed by an IIT Mumbai’s inception report on Mahul. A full report titled “Survey of various infrastructure facilities to be provided to the Mahul project rehabilitates” prepared after direction from the High Court is expected to be submitted by end of November 2018.
That apart, IIT-Mumbai also cautioned the state government with the slightest change due to any geomorphological event, such as land subsidence or sea level rise, the high-tide line can shift landwards and cover the entire built-up area, endangering human inhabitation made for the PAPs that lies right next to the 50 metre buffer from mangroves in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) II zone. The risks were real.
When Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) that lies barely a stone’s throw away from Mahul’s MHADA colony, registered a blast and fire at a refinery on the noon of August 8, 2018, it just made matters worse for the PAPs who realised there wasn’t even an evacuation road should any untoward accident occur. “We are like sitting ducks. Most of the residents here have simply fled their homes after that day. Even a slight sudden sound sends everyone running out of their homes,” says Mahul resident Hasmukh Waghela.
It was back in 2009 the Bombay High Court ordered Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to remove encroachments near the Tansa water pipeline citing safety and security threats. Of the 160 kms of water pipelines running through Mumbai, the BMC admitted through an affidavit filed in the High Court in 2009 that there were about 15,000 illegal structures on the 90 kms of pipeline that lay above ground.
Mahul resident Hasmukh Waghela
After a few civic orders were passed, the state government finally decided to allot tenements at Mahul, Chembur to the BMC for accommodating residents of structures existing since January 1, 2000.
However, over the years, the dismal condition of living standards of the PAPs, the escalating threat to the health of residents of Mahul and neighbouring Ambapada and a surge in skin ailments, lung disorders even cancers, led to loud demands for relocation to a safer option. In 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Pune too passed an order that said, “…there is a perceptible threat to health of residents of village Mahul and Ambapada due to prevailing air quality in the area”.
On March 15 this year, a hard-nosed Maharashtra government, in a last-ditch effort, assured the High Court through an affidavit filed before a division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla, the state was sticking to its plan to shift over 11,000 PAPs to 59 buildings at the Eversmile Layout at Mahul.
The state government cited the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) reports that showed the ambient air quality was within prescribed limits. It even maintained the NGT order over pollution due to chemical factories in Mahul was based on an interim report by KEM hospital.
The displaced refused to move to Mahul and those living were bent on leaving. Even the High Court observed that “we cannot force people to go stay in Mahul in the light of the observations made by the NGT. The state government has two choices – either accommodate these persons elsewhere or give them monthly monetary compensation till they are rehabilitated.”
For now, the state is left with little option but to concede and relocate the PAPs.
---
*Founder of think tank DraftCraft International, Founding Editor of news portal The Draft, Founding Solicitor of the Chamber Practice and Producer at DraftCraft Films

Comments

TRENDING

Telangana govt proposes to give unfettered powers to forest officials, 'help' corporates

By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao*
The Telangana Government is contemplating to replace the Telangana Forest Act 1967 with a new law - the Telangana Forest Act (TFA) 2019, trampling the rights of adivasis ensured under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA Act 2006) and Panchayats Extension to Schedule Area (PESA) Act 1996 both of which are central acts.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

One lakh schools closed down, draft policy 'seeks' commercialisation: Whither RTE?

By Our Representative
A national consultation on the new draft National Education Policy (NEP) with senior experts, teachers’ association representatives and other stakeholders at the India International Centre in New Delhi on July 11, organised by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, has expressed serious concern over curtailment in the budgeted expenditure on education year after year, even as closure of more than one lakh schools over the "last few years."

Lynching as state terror? Complete dearth of 'political will' to deal with mob violence

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
On Friday July 5, thousands of people had gathered at a rally in Surat to protest against the growing mob lynching incidents in different parts of the country. There are different interpretations at what happened during the rally: with police blaming the rallyists and those in the rally blaming the police for using teargas shells upon them without any reason.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

Gender budgeting? Govt of India allocates just 2.1%, 0.73% for SC, ST women

By Rajiv Shah
The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), one of the most influential all-India Dalit rights networks, has taken strong exception to the manner in which the Government of India has undermined Gender Responsive Budgeting in the Union Budget 2019-20 for scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), pointing towards “wide gaps” between the goals and the situational reality of “the Dalit and Adivasi women on the ground.”

Mental health: India's 95% patients "deprived" of medical care, treatment gap 70%

By Moin Qazi*
Among the many challenges India faces, the most underappreciated is the ongoing mental health crisis. Mental illness is actually India’s ticking bomb. An estimated 56 million Indians suffer from depression, and 38 million from anxiety disorders. For those who suffer from mental illness, life can seem like a terrible prison from which there is no hope of escape; they are left forlorn and abandoned, stigmatized, shunned and misunderstood.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.