Thane: Instead of playground, Diva kids have dumping ground in backyard

Two schools in Diva are a stone’s throw away from the civic dumping ground; breathing problems on the rise

“Shut the window! We’re eating!” yell the students. One would imagine that a lunch break would entail a dash for the open grounds. Instead, the students of National English School in Diva are confined to their classrooms, their windows bolted tightly shut. Blame the smoke billowing from the Thane Municipal Corporation’s (TMC) dumpyard just a few metres away on the Shil-Diva station road.

The dumpyard has put the health of over 800 school students at risk. The civic body asserts that the facility is over 500 metres away, but a reality check by mid-day punches holes in the claim. The dumpyard is a stone’s throw away from National English School and Adarsh Vidyalaya High School.

Students of National English School and Adarsh Vidyalaya High School in Diva, Thane, are forced to keep their windows shut to prevent the entry of smoke from garbage burning in a dumping ground. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Students of National English School and Adarsh Vidyalaya High School in Diva, Thane, are forced to keep their windows shut to prevent the entry of smoke from garbage burning in a dumping ground. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

National English School has 392 students on its rolls from nursery to class 5 and conducts classes from 7am to 1pm. “The school has been functioning for the past five years. The dumping ground is close by. We are not much affected by the smoke, but if there were a fire outbreak, students will suffer,” says Jyoti Nagore, principal of the school.

Students at the school are forced to study in the dark since the windows are kept shut at all times to keep out the smoke and the stench, barely 10 m away. “The roads that lead to the school are full of smoke,” says a kindergarten teacher at the school. “Most students are from a slum settlement near the school. They have no choice but to inhale the smoke back at their homes. They are used to it (the smoke) by now and we are just doing our jobs.”

By the look of it, Adarsh Vidyalaya is a safe distance away. It is around 50 m from the dumpyard, but its 400 students have to walk down the same road and the smoke inevitably reaches the school premises.

School authorities allege that their repeated complaints to the authorities concerned have been fruitless. “A chemical leak last December led to the closure of the school for two days,” points out Smita Patil, a teacher.

RD Mishra, principal of the school, says the monsoon makes matters worse. “The stench from the wet, rotting garbage becomes unbearable.” Mishra fears that speaking up against the civic body can boomerang and lead to the shutdown of the school.

The school runs on two shifts and offers classes in three languages — Hindi, Marathi and English.

In the back of beyond
Bhushan Mhatre, an NCP member who takes the Shil road daily, alleges Diva has been given the short shrift by the authorities concerned. “The Shil road is pockmarked with potholes and the smoke from the dumping ground stings motorists’ eyes, resulting in accidents. The authorities should visit the site and take cognisance of the dangers children are in. I don’t know who granted permission to the school to function from near the dumping ground.” Mhatre says most residents of Diva suffer from breathing problems and eye irritations.

Vijay Bhoir, another resident, says things had come to a head last December during a chemical leak at the dumping yard. “Desperate people were ready to move out of the area without a backup plan. Diva has always been neglected. The civic authorities should use its funds to develop the area. If nothing else, they should put an end to rampant, unplanned construction of new buildings,” he suggests.

The other side
Sandeep Malvi, public relations officer, TMC, says adequate precautions are taken when garbage is dumped at the site.

“We have also deployed security guards to ensure that waste is dumped in a proper manner. Precautions are taken to ensure that the smoke resulting from burning garbage does cause health problems.”

A TMC official who overlooks the dumping process at Diva says around 550-650 tonnes of waste is dump at the site daily. As per the norms, no school should be closer than 500 m from the dumping ground. Both schools are at that distance and are not affected by smoke.

He says the TMC is planning to set up a waste-to-energy generation plant at Shil-Daighar.

Kids, elderly at risk
Dr Satish Rane, an ayurvedic doctor in Diva, says he treats more than 100 patients each month for breathing problems and skin infections. “Children have come in with asthma and the elderly with other breathing problems. Skin and eye irritations are common, too.”

Evacuations
In December last year, Diva was covered by a chemical smog, forcing residents to evacuate the area. Investigation into issue the found that some miscreants had made a futile attempt to empty four drums filled with chemicals like toluene and xylene (found in many household and industrial substances) in a huge pit dug near the TMC dumping ground in Davle village.

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