Though it may seem aberrant but even on the Day 55 (Friday) of the ‘Jeevan Bachao Andolan’ by the Mahul residents, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government has failed to comply with the August 8 Bombay High Court order to provide alternative housing to the residents of Mahul who are facing life threats due to toxic atmosphere in that area. However, amid continuing protests, with recent development, the MHADA has allotted 300 transit houses (temporary accommodations) in areas like Gorai, Borivali, Powai, Goregaon, and Dharavi for relocating some of the residents. While over 30,000 people are affected by the toxic environmental conditions in Mahul, the relocation would be done on an urgent need basis and the housing authority has asked the residents to provide a list of the most affected people.
President of MHADA Uday Samant is an MLA of Shiv Sena and he has confirmed the allotment of houses. This decision disapproves the Maharashtra government’s stand in the Court about non-availability of alternative houses. He also said that although the housing authority has 433 unused transit homes at their disposal, 133 have been kept reserved for the emergency situation.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said, “The government has assured that everybody will be rehabilitated soon. The second issue is that the high toxicity levels in the environment surrounding the industries need to be reviewed urgently. The MPs and the MLAs of Mahul have tried their level best but failed to resolve the issue. The Government of India, the Central Pollution Control Board, and the Industrial pollution control agencies should immediately look into this matter as the industries there are not reacting to any of the complaints.”
Away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, Mahul is a neighbourhood in the Trombay area which is reported to be one of the worst polluted parts of the city that is causing rapid health deterioration for the populace who are forced to live there endangering their livelihood. Over the past few years, the BMC has shifted over 5,500 families (around 30,000 people) to Mahul from their previous settlements (illegal housing) in Ghatkopar, Chembur, Powai, Vakola, and Bandra (East) along the Tansa water pipeline; the eviction drive got intensified with the Bombay HC order of keeping a ten metre corridor along the length of the pipeline to secure it from encroachment and “damage”.
In an exclusive chat with AV, Social worker Medha Patkar stated, “Though MHADA offered 300 homes, the State Government is yet to take any action. People are protesting all these days and living on the footpaths. Prakash Mehta assured us that around 18,000 houses built by HDIL for the airport expansion affected people are lying vacant since the last 10 years. While denying to allot the HDIL houses to the Mahul residents, the CM stated legal barriers as the reason; we ensure nothing such barrier exists.”
While talking about the insensitivity of the government towards the plight of the Mahul residents, Patkar added, “Undoubtedly, the builders and their pressure play a big role. The affected people don’t want to involve and get cheated in the conflict of assurances given both by the CM and the Housing Minister. How can both the public representatives from the same ruling party deliver counterstatements? Whom should we believe? CM Fadnavis should have coordinated with the affected residents at least once after the August 8 Bombay HC order. We want the complete implementation of all the assurances. Until then, the movement will continue.”
Framing how the grievances of the Mahul residents are real and frightful, BJP Maharashtra spokesperson Madhav Bhandari expressed, “Environmental issues in that area have not been addressed by the concerned industries in Mahul. The demand for rehabilitation is the only key. If hell-like pollution levels are not addressed, there’s no choice left other than rehabilitation.”
The grim pollution problems become worse with every passing day in Mahul. Residents there live in 72-storey buildings jammed together in the shadow of fertiliser plants, power stations, and refineries where the air contains the strong smell of chemicals, sewage overflows into narrow streets, and basic treatment facilities are miles away.
Mahul, infamously called as ‘Mumbai’s Toxic Hell’, has several chemical and fertiliser factories and industrial waste generated from those have been a major source of pollution. Air and water have shown very high toxicity levels which make it ill-suited for human consumption affecting the health of the residents and multiple skin diseases have been reported from the area.
In 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) graded Mahul “unfit for human habitation” and blamed the civic administration for failing to plan and maintain the minimum buffer area between the industrial and the residential areas. Adding to the distressing chronicle, a recent RTI report reveals 88 Mahul residents have lost their lives in the past two years (40 died in 2016, 21 in 2017, and so far 26 in 2018) although the locals claim the count to be near 100; whereas, cancer, bronchitis, lung and skin infection are most reported causes of the death.
When AV Editor spoke to AAP’s Maharashtra committee member Dhananjay Shinde, he explained, “Mahul village, which is in Chembur, has two oil refineries of HPCL and BPCL each and 16 chemical factories. Gas released during the chemical processing or crude oil purification is poisonous. The NGT declared the area unfit for human health. The courts had already said that people should not be shifted there. Yet, the authorities made them shift to Mahul, despite there being unoccupied accommodations in Kurla. The pipeline project-affected persons (PAPs) need to be shifted to better living conditions immediately.”
Voicing for a quick respite for the thousands of ‘dying’ Mahul residents, a member of the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Aandolan on the condition of anonymity expressed, “It seems that the government has sent these people in Mahul to die. There are many political parties in Mahul. Mumbaikars have been voting various party candidates in the elections. But despite agitation for so many days and even after so many deaths, the CM is not ready to pay attention to the residents’ demand for rehabilitation as per the High Court order.”
She further added, “We need 5,500 houses to relocate the PAPs. Supporting them on social media is not enough to save their lives. I feel that the Mumbaikars, the social and political activists should communicate and request the CM to save more than 30,000 lives.” Besides, the urban planners of the city feel that the development in and around the island city is only crushing the poorest citizens!