A 1,80,000 sq-ft piece of land in Jogeshwari (West) is literally in the centre of some stinking controversies. The land, which is home to nearly 21 cattle sheds/tabelas, has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and rodents and has raised fears of an epidemic outbreak, especially during monsoon.

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Dilawar Ibrahim walks through the poorly kept cattle shed. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Dilawar Ibrahim walks through the poorly kept cattle shed. Pics/Nimesh Dave

The original owners of the property have now come forward claiming the land from the 21 tenants it was rented out to in the pre-independence era. Not surprisingly, the tenants have refused to vacate. Meanwhile, in a bid to prevent a repeat of last year’s leptospirosis outbreak, BMC Health Department has issued prosecution notices against these sheds.

Workers collect and discard the dung within the premises
Workers collect and discard the dung within the premises

Tug of war
mid-day investigations revealed that mushrooming construction activities in and around SV Road and the real estate boom have made this cattle zone a goldmine of sorts. A local resident, who did not wish to be named, said, “The original landlords (grandchildren of one Essa Aziz) have valid reasons to claim their property. But the shed owners are doing everything possible to prove their right over this land. Amidst all this, public health is being compromised.”

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A friend of the Aziz family and local resident, Mohammed Ali Kharbai had formed an NGO Lok-Mat Parishad to raise the health scare issue. Speaking to mid-day, he said, “Disposal of dung inside sheds is against Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) guidelines. Despite the numerous complaints registered with BMC, there has been little change. BMC had stopped renewing licenses in 2007-2008. Yet, there are 1,200 buffaloes, shanties and illegal construction inside the premises. Also, cattle sheds are supposed to be a kilometre away from residential areas, as per MPCB guidelines. There’s a hospital, a school, residential buildings and food joints surrounding the sheds.” According to Kharbai, 19 out of 21 shed owners have claimed to be original tenants of the property. “They also attempted to mislead the court once by doctoring the plan of the shed. The original plan, issued by the suburban collector’s office, has been submitted to the court.”

Apparently, Essa Aziz rented out 1,076 killas (approximately 15-18 feet in length, 3 feet breath) to 21 tenants to tie their buffaloes, for a rent of Rs 3 per killa, which was later increased to Rs 6 and, consequently, discontinued a few years ago.

Speaking to mid-day Dilawar Ibrahim, Aziz’s grandson shared, “It was a well-kept shed during my grandfather and father’s time. Four years ago BMC appraised us about all the illegal activities taking place on the premises. There are over 90 labourers living there with 1,200 buffaloes. An area that was reserved for burning waste has been converted into a dumping yard and an 8-feet tank, near residential buildings, is overflowing with dung. An illegal water connection is also being used there. We are unaware if the tenants rented out parts of the land to others without our permission.”

What we saw...
When mid-day visited the area, we found ourselves surrounded by mosquitoes, muck and rodents. Abdul Khan (43), whose father Abdul Bari served as the shed’s manager in Essa Aziz’s time, said, “We have been staying here for decades, but conditions here are so grim that even children are expected to walk through this muck to reach the main road. During monsoon, the buffalo urine and dung enter our homes. But it wasn’t always like this. BMC pest control teams have stopped visiting too.”

BMC orders
A sero-surveillance — an inspection system for vaccine-preventable diseases — was conducted by BMC last year, and based on the reports, all the sheds were issued a notice on April 27 to take corrective measures. In all 82 samples, from 9 sheds were tested, a health official said, adding, “As per the notice, a compliance report was to be submitted by the shed owners within 15 days, but that didn’t happen. Hence, it falls under willful negligence and BMC is taking action. We have requested the police to register an FIR under Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), Section 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and Section 289 (negligent conduct with respect to animals) of the Indian Penal Code.”

Speaking to mid-day, BMC executive health officer Dr Padmaja Keskar informed, “We have requested the shed owners/tenants to get their cattle tested and submit the vaccination reports to the health officer, to avoid a lepto outbreak — caused by mixing of urine of infected animals. But few shed owners have complied with our instructions. Also, we have learnt that disposal guidelines of buffalo urine and dung — to be discarded outside city limits on a daily basis — is not being followed. The waste is getting released in the drains, in the interest of public health, a prosecution notice has been forwarded. If ignored, we will issue another notice to the police and send a copy to court.”

K/West ward medical officer Dr Nazneen Khan thinks prosecution notices are being issued to the shed owners for the first time. “There are 34 sheds under my jurisdiction and notices have been issued to most for non-compliance of health safety norms. We have decided to help the police, who have sought assistance in registering FIR.”

A senior health official said, “Almost all departments of BMC – sanitation, maintenance and pest control — have issued notices to the shed owners, but their indifference compelled us to finally issue prosecution orders.”

Police says
Senior police inspector Bharat Gaikwad from Amboli police station said, “I will have to check the details, as I have just taken charge a month ago. We are aware of the issues in Jogeshwari and will look into the BMC K/West ward notice issued to the tabelas.” ACP Arun Chavan from Andheri division added, “As it concerns public health, I will check up on it personally.”

Tabela responds
Mustak Malkani, one of the shed owners, said, “Senior BMC officials visited the sheds recently and found us adhering to all norms. We get the dung moved out of city limits every day —I have the transporter receipt to prove it. We believe this notice is a precautionary measure by BMC health officials.” On being asked if any letter had been sent M/s Essa Aziz Tabela Milk Producer’s Welfare Society to BMC Building Proposal Department, Bandra (W) — complaining about a developer being given rights to the shed area — Malkani replied in negative.