Dumped in a Toxic Hell & Forgotten: Mahul Residents Fight Back
Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Camera Assistant: Gautam Sharma
Editor: Ashish MacCune
Thirty-four-year-old Anita Dhole has been camping on the footpath in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar along with her family for two years now. She chose homelessness over living at the transit camp in Mumbai’s Mahul area, where she and 5,500 other families were forced to shift to after their homes along the Tansa pipeline were demolished in 2017.
“We are camping here because we want to live and Mahul isn’t habitable,” she explains.
“There are chemical factories and refineries in Mahul. That’s why a lot of people have fallen sick there. People need clean air and water to survive. We are getting this here in Vidyavihar Tansa pipeline. This isn’t available in Mahul. The Government wants to kill us and for this, they have sent us to Mahul.”Anita Dhole
Residents living in the 72 buildings of Mahul’s transit camps have coined many names for their new home. Some of these are ‘Toxic Hell’ and ‘Gas Chamber’ because Mahul is also home to at least 10 chemical plants, like the Rashtriya Chemical And Fertilizers Ltd and 3 oil refineries.
‘Unfit For Habitation’
Mahul has been declared unfit for habitation by the National Green Tribunal and IIT Bombay due to severe air and water pollution. In a survey conducted by IIT Bombay on 10 percent of residents, over 34 people in Mahul suffer from lung diseases.
30-year-old Ramsingh Thapa has been suffering from Tuberculosis for three years now. His condition has only worsened despite receiving treatment. His wife blames his deteriorating condition on the filthy environment the family lives in.
“He was not sick earlier. He fell sick after coming here. I took him to Cooper Hospital when he started coughing blood. They gave this medicine and asked us to start the course. But then it increased because of the water and filth. They call us again and again but we can’t go as we don’t have money.”Aarti Thapa, Resident
Another prevalent medical condition that at least 204 people among those surveyed have developed is skin infections.
“I have skin problems for three years now. My skin itches every time water falls on it. This has spread everywhere. The doctor prescribed a medicine and then sent me back. I feel better after applying the medicine for two days but then it started all over again. Doctor tells me that this is because of the water.”Jyoti Bhasin, Resident
Also Read : Air pollution linked to premature death risk
Long-Term Exposure To VOCs
A study by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and NEERI in 2018, found the presence of 21 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the area. Some of the dominant VOCs included Benzene, Styrene Toluene, Xylenes, Diethybenzene, Trimethylbenzene and Dichlorobenzenes.
“A lot of these VOCs are carcinogenic. So, long term exposures can have very serious health impacts. Secondly, it is not just the Volatile Organic Compounds, there are all the traditional pollution that these emit like SO2, NOx, Particulate Matter and so on. The VOCs are in addition to what is being emitted and the point is of course that the people who are the closest to the emission source, get the maximum and highest amount of exposure.”Debi Goenka, the Executive Trustee at the Conservation Action Trust.
“This area should never have been used for locating a residential complex. It is too close to the refinery. There’s not just the issue of pollution but there’s the issue of safety as well. If there is an accident or something goes wrong, which it tends to do in every refinery in the world at some point of time, then the lives of the people living there are at risk,” he adds.
Fighting a Legal Battle To Live
Residents of Mahul now have their hopes pinned on the Bombay High Court. On 3 September, the Bombay High Court directed the petitioners fighting to relocate Mahul residents to prepare a comparative chart of surveys on air quality in Mahul done by various agencies to find out whether the air quality has deteriorated or improved in the area since 2015.
In August 2019, the high court had directed the Maharashtra government to deposit Rs 15,000 per month as rent and an additional Rs 45,000 as refundable deposit in the bank accounts of the residents and other project affected persons (PAPs).
Residents, however, are yet to receive the money.