Size of waste around Mumbai slum is growing day-by-day, cutting short the lives of people. Trash, garbage, rubbish and refuse whatever you prefer to call it. Piled high, strewn all over and sometimes collected into little mounds for clean-up. As with most public health hazards there’s more trash in the poorer neighborhoods than in the wealthier ones. You will find cows groping through a massive garbage pile at the corner of Kaula Bandar the unregistered slum community. Over time the docks were overrun with workers and their tenement-style houses. Though many residents are recent migrants, some parts of Kaula Bandar have been there for over 40 years. The slum now houses over 40,000 people. The area, a former jetty, is surrounded on three sides by water. The lanes near its end are so twisted you have to stoop to squeeze through them. In 1927, Mumbai started to send its waste, previously deposited in Kurla, to the outskirts of the city in Deonar. But as the city spread and land prices increased, the region saw a remarkable shift. Oil refineries, fertiliser plants and resulting employee quarters came up. The railway line was extended, highways constructed, slum dwellers from the island city rehabilitated and further ahead, the satellite town of Navi Mumbai was planned, pitched and executed. Meanwhile, on other open lands new slums too cropped up. All along, the dumping ground remained a fixture in the background and ensured lower living costs. Thus, the slums around the dumping ground quietly mushroomed till, in 2011, they took over Dharavi as the largest slum pockets in Asia. Till the beginning of 2017, Mumbai produced 8,722 metric tonnes of waste per day that the BMC was trying to reduce to 6,789 metric tonnes. This measure was supposed to be started in slums and take the waste count below 5,000 metric tonnes of waste per day. BMC also conducted various waste composting exhibitions over the months by spending huge public money but nothing much could be achieved.
Of the three dumping grounds in the city, waste is scientifically processed only at Kanjurmarg. The Deonar and Mulund dumping grounds have already reached their saturation point. A constant fire incident in these two dumping grounds has become a huge health hazard for citizens living in the nearby areas. In February 2015, Deonar witnessed three major fire incidents and multiple number of pocket fire incidents. Toxic inhaling and smoke, has caused such serious issues that the slum residents dying without living their lives to the fullest. Children are born down syndrome or with multiple deficiencies. The overloaded garbage is taking down the lives of people. However, BMC needs another three years to set-up a waste-to-energy plant at the Deonar dumping ground. BMC is also in the process of appointing a contractor to scientifically close down the Mulund dumping ground, but no one knows how many lives going to be compromised in these three years. The life expectancy of people living around Deonar dumping ground hovers at around 39 years. The urban life expectancy in Maharashtra is 73.5 years. The slums around the dumping ground, so far, offer the cheapest living options in Mumbai. Many migrants, especially Dalits and Muslims, therefore, move into these slums, where a 6×6 room could cost Rs. 500-1000, and become ragpickers to earn a living. Often underage and exploited by those who’ve risen up the ranks, these ragpickers ignore severe health concerns as they venture into the dumping ground to bring back recyclable material. India might require mass education drives to be convinced of the need for controlling the trash, but municipal corporations do with their powers and budgets. Activists hint at vested interests when BMC keeps hunting for newer sites to dump waste and allots a significant amount to transportation.
Each year, the BMC budget announces ambitious plans to change the face of waste management in the city, each year it fails. This year too, Rs.100 crores has been announced for the long-touted waste-to-energy plant at the dumping ground. Mumbai’s development plan, too, marks certain areas as waste-processing centers, but if the past is any proof, these plans are mired in bureaucratic hassles and end up existing only on paper. For Mumbai to be able to manage its waste problem, a lot of things need to happen at once. Segregation, decentralized waste processing, only allowing unprocessed waste to reach the dumping ground, which would then be processed without polluting the environment. But in the same breath, these steps are nearly impossible without the presence of a strong leadership. Strong leadership is associated with an elected mayor or an empowered representative. Mumbai has neither and is dependent on how willing the Assistant Municipal Commissioners or the ward officers are. The Councillors can take up issues in the standing committee meetings, but their powers are limited. The solid waste management department is a failure, and the elected representative, the Councillor, has been reduced to someone who merely asks questions and complains to the municipal corporation. Regardless of the limited powers, the Councillors are closest to the population but seem to be unable to provide any comprehensive solutions to their electorate. However, for slum residents, the choice lies between poor health and death by starvation.