In the year 2010, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) decided to impose a fine on people found dumping garbage in drains. If anyone is caught throwing garbage in a drain, they will have to pay Rs 5,000 as a fine for first offence. BMC teams were formed in every ward under the ward officer who would go around the city keeping an eye out for offenders. The amount of fine was depending on how much garbage an individual dumped. Clean up marshals have also been on alert, but later on, they landed up blackmailing and extorting people. The cleanup drive and its marshals remained utter flop and the plastic bags still sunk the city but no one was caught. Some formalities were done to show the numbers. Throwing garbage in the open is not only an offence but it leads to choking of the drains. If drains are choked, that leads to flooding. People still lack civic sense. After eight years, again in 2018, the Maharashtra government has decided to ban plastic and impose fine on users.
Last week, rains exposed the double standards of BMC and the state government. Mumbai was flooding; many nullahs (drains) that pass through thickly populated slums were choked. Nullahs around the paan shops were seen with heavy garbage of pan masala’s waterproof sachets and Gutka’s plastic wraps. Areas like Pila House and Nagpada nullahs were choked with condoms. Even if the drains are cleaned, garbage from these areas was found floating in them the next day. Just plastic bags are not the issue, from chocolate wrappers to condoms all those waterproof wrappers are the challenge to Mumbai’s drainage system. Many slums which are situated on drains such as Chamdawadi nullah, that passes through the Behrampada slum in Bandra (East), gets choked with garbage that people living in homes near the drain throw in it. You cannot stop them unless and until there is a strict vigil. There are many slums on gutters, where small-scale workers throw most of the waste in these drainage pipes. The BMC finds it difficult to clean these drains regularly because most of them are difficult to access due to shanties built around them. The politicians who rule the city and the state of Maharashtra blame it on the weather but they still failed to understand the geographical conditions and drainage issues pertaining to the city.
No one disputes that the island city on the Arabian Sea gets a large share of rainfall every year. Many ambitious projects like Metro etc. that have made many ecological compromises. The systematic destruction of about 1,000 acres of the city’s mangrove cover – what’s left, about 5,000 acres, is under threat and that has deprived Mumbai of its natural flood-barrier and silt trap. Now rainwater washes silt into the bay, threatening to clog the city’s deep natural harbour. Many ecologically unsound decisions have caused huge financial damage. Meanwhile, horror stories abound of urban welfare projects have gone terribly awry. Mangroves have been cleared to build golf courses, amusement parks and rubbish dumps. Building construction is planned on thousands of acres of salt pan land. In the 16th century, 95 percent of today’s Mumbai was under water. It’s not just the “no-development zones” that have fallen prey to the frenzy of unplanned building.
Typically, 35-40 percent of rainwater is absorbed by the land, lifting groundwater levels, but there are few open spaces left in Mumbai. India has the lowest ratio of open space to people in the world – a mere four acres per 1,000 of the population, compared to the global benchmark of 12 acres. In Mumbai, this falls to a paltry 0.2 acres, and after accounting for slums, it diminishes to a measly 0.03 acres. An unholy nexus between the politicians, builders and unfettered development have brought the city to the brink of collapse. Thousands of tons of unlearned rubbish choke the city’s 100-year-old storm water drains, which urgently need an overhaul. And in a city where 88 percent of commuters use public transport, governments spend a lot on flyovers and a pittance on upgrading creaky trains and buses. In the next 50 years, the storm drains that carry rainwater out of Mumbai could be bringing sea water in, even at low tide. Storm water drains choked with ubiquitous plastic carry bags are partly responsible for Mumbai’s woes.
The Environment Ministry’s decision to ban the manufacture and use of small plastic carry bags has gone unheeded, not just in Maharashtra, but also in most parts of the country. In June 1998, the Bombay Municipal Corporation passed a resolution to ban plastic carry bags only to vacate it in less than two days. The then Mumbai Mayor said no plastic bags meant putting out of work those engaged in the plastics recycling industry. India’s plastics consumption is one of the highest in the world. Yet, precious little has been done to recycle, re-use and dispose of plastic waste. The carry bags that are callously littered at every public place have low economic value and are not picked up by rag pickers. About 500 flimsy polythene bags make a kilo and fetch about Rs 12, if the bags are soiled the value is even less. Without being picked up, most of the poly-bags end up in drains and block flow of water. In absence of a long-term Government policy, we are unable to get rid of poly-bags. When sewage is blocked, municipal corporations and State pollution control boards only pass the buck. Corporations just throw up their hands when it comes to handling the enormous quantity of plastic waste. Besides choking drains, plastics are highly toxic. When burned they release cancer-causing gases. Lying in the garbage, polythene bags also find their way in the gut of the cattle, asphyxiating the animals. The Mumbai crisis serves as a grim reminder that unless our plastic waste is taken care of, we cannot dream to emulate Shanghai. The Panvel City Municipal Corporation even penalised the Kharghar-based DAV School’s canteen for using plastic spoons and glasses.
Starbucks and McDonald’s outlet, faced action for plastic articles found on their premises. These outlets were fined Rs 5,000 each, while the fast-food outlet would face further proceedings as it refused to pay up. In the neighbouring districts of Thane and Navi Mumbai, the official machinery kicked off the drive in earnest — 100 people were fined Rs 95,000 for violations in Thane, while Rs 35,000 was collected in fines at Navi Mumbai and plastic goods seized. All this hype is only during rains to save the skin of authority, Mumbai has many other plastic challenges and the government needs to be serious about it.
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