On first thoughts, you may view them as your saviours, as they swing by your place, collect any garbage and debris that you might want to part with, pack them into their hand-pulled carts and take the load off your hands, quite literally - and all for a meagre fee.
But what you might not know is that these garbage collectors are slowly but surely killing the only things that stand between you and the next tsunami - the last of the city’s mangroves. MiD DAY’s investigations have exposed an unsettling chain of disposal, in which garbage and debris collected from suburban homes and construction sites are being dumped brazenly on the few remaining tracts of mangrove lining the city’s coastline, destroying them.
The law of the land says that all dumping should be done outside the city limits, after due permission is taken from the BMC’s environment department. With utter disregard for these rules, the mangroves are being burnt, razed or unceremoniously dumped upon.
Dial a ‘dumper’
In the lanes and bylanes stretching from Bandra to Santacruz, more than 16 handcarts can be seen doing the rounds every day, driven by men and women who are always on the lookout for spots from where they can carry back bags full of garbage and debris. On any given day, you can find them scouring the streets near Turner Road junction Bandra, Khar Danda and Gazdar Bandh in Santacruz, just to name a few.
To drive away a cartful of debris or residential refuse, they charge between Rs 2,000-3,000. Pocketing the money, they wind their way to the nearest coastal opening, and dump the refuse in the mangroves swamps lining the shore. Bandra Reclamation is a popular dumping spot. Anil Joseph, chairperson of Perry Road Resident’s Association, who first identified this ‘mafia,’ said, “About six months ago, when I was traveling home, I saw these handcarts full of debris packed in bags.
I stopped the men who were pulling them and asked them where they were taking the stuff. They replied that they were going to dump it near the sea. I was shocked and went going to areas like Bandra Reclamation, Chimbai, Khar Danda and Santacruz, to discover that debris was being dumped on the mangroves, killing them instantly. I had complained to officials at Chimbai, after which they cleared the area, but now it has started again.”
The part of Bandra Reclamation below the flyover that meets Mahim creek is a sprawling wasteland where garbage has been dumped on the mangroves as well as the roads. The bushes have also been burnt. Nicholas Almeida of Watchdog Foundation said, “This is horrible. How can they just burn mangroves in broad daylight? Where are the officials? Mangroves are here to protect us, and yet we are killing them.”
Even at Chimbai and Khar Danda, vast amounts of debris have been dumped unceremoniously on the mangroves. Large tracts of the vegetation have been lopped off to make way for the dumping grounds. MiD DAY paid a visit to the spot to find only the residual stalks of mangroves that have been lopped off recently, in blatant indifference to a signboard that warns criminal action against those who damaged the mangroves.
Earlier, this mafia used to operate under the cover of darkness, bringing the debris in huge trucks. But the dumping now continues through the day, with brazen dumpers being seen pulling in in broad daylight to discard the materials they have collected. MiD DAY found two women carrying debris and stopped them. Asked what they were doing, one of them replied, “Hum log pura area se debris uthate hai.
Jitna hoga sab leke jayega (We pick up debris from the whole area and we will take it all with us).” They introduced themselves as banjaras and explained, “A person has hired us to do this job. We dump this debris on the sea anywhere between Bandra and Santacruz, wherever the contractor tells us.”
She readily shared her number and urged this reporter to ring her, saying, “We are available here from morning till evening. We don’t operate at night. We roam around the area to collect debris for money.” The conversation ended abruptly when the two women were accosted by a new client, who offered them a bike ride to a spot on Carter Road from where they were to collect debris.
Joseph said, “This practice should be stopped immediately and the area should immediately be cleared and cleaned to let the mangroves grow. In fact, the scheme should start immediately. If the BMC takes action, their own revenue will grow and these people will be forced to dump debris at proper places outside the city, saving our mangroves.”
A senior level BMC officer said, “The executive engineer of the environment department at the zonal level is vested with the responsibility to collect the debris and dump it outside the city. But that is not done.” Assistant Commissioner (H-west ward) Prashant Sapkale said, “We have received and we are taking action on the same. I have fined these people Rs 20,000 three times.”
Jagdish Gandhi, an activist fighting for mangrove protection, said, “This is cruelty on the very mangroves that protect us. This is a systematic joint operation to completely destroy the mangroves. They first dump on the vegetation to kill it. They then prove that nothing can grow on the land, and sell them to the builders’ lobby.
The rates for this land are usually extremely high as it is sea-facing. The tsunamis that swept south India and Japan destroyed all the exposed areas, but the mangroves did not move an inch - that is the power of mangroves. A day will come when Mumbai will also be struck by such floods; mangroves are natural walls that protect us.”
Activist and advocate Godfrey Pimenta said, “Mangroves are declared as protected forests. No development is allowed within the 50 metres of the mangroves. According to Section 15 of the Environment (protection) Act 1986, anybody can file a complaint with the police against any party that violates sections of the Act. The punishment is of five years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh, and the offence is non-bailable.”
It is extremely shocking if they are dumping debris near the mangroves. This will in turn cause us harm.
- Sanchita Kadam, student
There are bodies formed specifically to safeguard mangroves and they should take immediate action. We should not wait for another July 26 deluge to take place
- Swarali Deshpande, professional
Authorities should make the common man and even officials aware of the value of mangroves so that something is done to curb this practice. There are many who do not know what mangroves are meant for.
- Satyajit Yelonde, professional
Immediate action should be taken against the mafia that is running this racket. They should clean the mangroves
- Sonal Palande, professional