Mumbai: Deonar blaze has rendered 2,000 ragpickers jobless

They want the BMC to provide them alternative source of income; claim the civic body’s health centres are of no help to them, as they close early

As the fire in the Deonar dumping ground rages on, and so do the voices from political parties and locals to shut it down, 2,000 ragpickers are now demanding alternative means of income from the BMC. The ragpickers, who are also dependent on the cheaper alternative medicine centres in the area, claim that BMC’s health centres did not help them, as they are open when they are busy earning the day’s pay and closed by the time they finish work.

Also Read: Air quality remains worse than Delhi's

The fires rage on at the Deonar dumping ground yesterday. Three fires broke out again at the ground, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Pic/Sameer Markande
The fires rage on at the Deonar dumping ground yesterday. Three fires broke out again at the ground, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Pic/Sameer Markande

Wednesday afternoon again witnessed three fire breakouts at the dumping ground, which resulted in a thick layer of smoke covering the vicinity all over again. As the entry of the ragpickers is strictly banned for the time being, the daily wage-workers have been forced to sit at home since almost a week. The ragpickers are now demanding that the civic body provide them with alternative means of income.

Did not start blaze
“We didn’t start the fire. The dumping ground is our only source of survival. Few desperate people even tried going inside to work, but the smoke forced them out. How will we survive if it goes on like this? BMC or politicians need to take steps to provide us with alternative means of income,” said Shalini Kamble, a ragpicker at Deonar since more than three decades and president of Kachra Vechak Samaj Sangh, which is the largest union of around 550 ragpickers.

Read Story: Deonar residents at most risk due to prolonged exposure to pollution

The ragpickers are also dependent on the local unani and homeopathic treatment centres, which are flooded with them while the BMC-run centres are idle. “Their centres close at 4 pm, till that time all of us are busy making sure we earn our day’s pay. We then go to the local doctors who give medicines at Rs 10 or Rs 20,” said a ragpicker, Javed Shaikh. mid-day had reported on how the data on treatment offered by the local civic medical facilities shows no change in the number of patients, even after the dumping ground fire. This is because ragpickers don’t go there as the centres shut down early.

‘Smoke will affect them’
Rahil Siddique, an unani doctor who runs Rajiv Gandhi Medical Centre since more than a decade in the vicinity, said that he has referred more than 15 patients to Shatabdi Hospital, but the civic body is neglecting the issues of the ragpickers. “The area has turned into a gas chamber. People are not visiting doctors thinking its smoke, and will obviously affect them. They are only going in severe cases which will affect their immunity to irreparable state,” said Siddique.

A representative of Apnalaya, an NGO working for the betterment of ragpickers said that there are absolutely no medical surveys conducted by the BMC, and no attempt was made to address the health issues of the ragpickers. “People say ragpickers torched the dumping ground. Why will they torch their source of livelihood knowing they wont be able to work there after a fire? The dumping ground is a world in itself and these people living there are in their most vulnerable state,” said Siraj Shah of Apnalaya.

“The politicians and residents say shut down the dumping ground. We are neither asking for it to be shut down nor kept open, but to think of 2,000 families who are dependent for their daily bread on the dumping ground,” said Kamble.

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