Tall Claims, Short Tempers

Jul 02, 2013, 01:32 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

Reports of a possible increase in height of dump at Deonar trigger residential ire; online petition calls for signature campaign against move

Concerned at recent news reports stating that the height of the garbage at the Deonar dumping ground is to be increased, Mumbai businessman and Advance Locality Management and Networking Action Committee (ALMANAC) President Raj Kumar Sharma (63) started an online campaign called ‘Save Chembur’.

The vast land of Deonar is covered in garbage
Please don't mind the dump: The vast land of Deonar is covered in garbage. Pics/Abhinav Kocharekar

This, with an aim to collect 1,000 signatures from concerned citizens, and send an appeal to the Municipal Commisioner, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and many more. The campaign can be viewed at www.thepetitionsite.com.

Dr Rahil Qamar Siddiqui
Doctors advice: Dr Rahil Qamar Siddiqui stands near the boundary wall of his clinic which overlooks the dump

Sharma referred specifically to news reports that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has sought permission from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to increase the height of the dump at the Deonar landfill from the already existing 35 metres to 50 metres, which is the same as a 16-storeyed building. The BMC claims it needs permission from the AAI to increase the height, because the increased height may create inconvenience and obstruction for air traffic and flight navigation.

 Raj Kumar Sharma
One man army: Raj Kumar Sharma at the Deonar dumping ground

While permissions are yet to be given, the petition is meant to create awareness and thwart any move to increase the height of the waste. The residents of the area of this Eastern suburb, are already, they claim suffering from several health problems because of the dumping ground. Increasing the height, they say will only compound problems.

In search of gold: A rag picker walks across the garbage in search of plastic

Since 1927, pollution, ill-health and the foul smell have remained a constant for Chembur residents and they have been suffering from the unplanned, non-scientific dumping of garbage at Deonar. The Deonar dumping ground, which has already passed its saturation point, receives thrice the amount of waste, which it should ‘officially’ receive. The size of the dumping ground has widened from 110 hectares to 130 hectares.

Lakshmi Nair
Lakshmi Nair

Sharma says, “The Deonar dumping ground gets approximately 9.2 million tonnes of waste. Till some years ago, the Deonar dumping ground was 110 hectares wide and the height of the garbage was up to seven storeys high. The garbage ‘hill’ was taller than the BEST quarters next to it. An NGO had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the burning of garbage at the Deonar dumping ground, which went on for nearly 15 years. Now the BMC is asking for permission for clearance from the AAI to raise the height of the dumping ground from the already existing 35 (approximately 114 feet) metres to 50 metres (approximately 164 feet). When the BMC told us about their plans in a recent meeting with activists, we did not respond sooner as we thought that the request was unjustified and it would be rejected.”

According to agreements between the BMC and the contracted agencies, the Deonar dumping ground is allotted to receive only 2,000 Tonnes Per Day (TPD). But today Deonar receives approximately 5,500-6,000 TPD every day although, according to its website, the BMC claims to deposit only 4,000 TPD there. Sharma explained that if the AAI gives clearance for the increased height of the Deonar dumping ground, there will be not only increase in the number of health related problems but additional environmental problems as well. He says, “It is common knowledge that birds like crows and eagles fly above the dumping ground. It would create a favourable environment for the birds and would greatly help their population. This, in turn, will create a nuisance for the residents and could create a problem for air traffic. Along with the foul smell and pollution we will also have to deal with increased bird population.”

Sharma adds “People are aware of environmental problems. But there is no support from the Corporation at all. The BMC is not keen to solve the problem. If the BMC segregates 5,000 tonnes of waste, 4,500 tonnes would be bio-degradable. So, automatically if they compost it, they reduce it by 90 per cent. You can easily manage the rest. I am just saying, do what you like with your waste. If you are not able to manage it, that’s your problem. As per agreements only 2,000 tonnes of waste should be deposited at Deonar. We do not want more than that.”

Kala Suresh (42), an ALM activist, who lives around 2 km away from the dumping ground, says, “There are plenty of issues with the Deonar dumping ground. Now, we (the residents) have found out that the BMC is planning to increase the height of the dumping ground. This has not gone down well with people living here. So many people are affected with chest infection, cough, cold and fever. These things are very common here. The months between October and January are the worst. A lot of the dry waste is burnt and it becomes very difficult to breathe.” Suresh further explains, “The BMC does not realise that Deonar is saturated. There is no space and the ground continues to expand not only area-wise but the dump expands height-wise too. There is no place to put in compost plants. There is so much money wasted. They (BMC) claim to have plans of compost plants and other such things for Deonar, but where is the implementation? It is only on paper.”

Lakshmi Nair (66), a resident and yoga teacher from Chembur, says, “I don’t live close to the dump but nonetheless it is always very smelly. It makes living here very difficult. The smell of the garbage is so strong, you can’t ignore it. Even though I have had asthma since childhood, it has worsened after living here. You can easily make out the smell and it creates uneasiness. Even in winter, we have to turn on the AC so that we don’t have to smell the garbage.”

Nair adds, “I have respiratory problems mainly because of the garbage dump. Even the doctors have said that because of the dump, my asthma has worsened. My son, who lives abroad, complains about the smell whenever he is here and questions my decision to live in Chembur. I am a yoga teacher and I have to teach various breathing exercises and techniques. But my students have a hard time doing the exercises because of the smell. I wish the authorities would do something soon, because it is unbearable.”

Dr Rahil Qamar Siddiqui, (48), a General Physician (GP), has been running his practice for the last six years, close to the dumping ground. His clinic is at Shivaji Nagar. Dr Siddiqui believes that it is the sole reason for the ill health of the people living in this area. “People here suffer from throat, eye and skin infections. Locals are affected by scabies, cough and coryza (symptoms of cold). Once the burning of the garbage starts, those suffering from TB and asthma, their infections usually worsen. They have difficulty breathing. I get 150-200 patients daily in my OPD. You will be lucky if you don’t have any sickness around here. The working conditions are also not very hygienic and I end up using two face masks every day.”

With Kanjurmarg dumping ground not receiving any waste due to ongoing protests from the people against the authorities and since the closure of the Gorai Dumping ground, Mulund dumping ground and Deonar dumping ground, carry the burden of the city’s waste. Considering the size of the grounds, Mulund is much smaller than Deonar, hence more garbage is dumped in Deonar. Agreeing that Deonar receives far more waste than it can handle, officials say that the waste has to go somewhere.

Prakash Kadam, Chief Engineer of Solid Waste Management (SWM) at the BMC, initially denied that the BMC has sought permission from the AAI to increase the height of the Deonar dumping ground but later clarified, “Yes the BMC is planning to ask for permission to increase the height of the ground but we are still in the planning stage. We are arranging for the documents and certificates needed and we shall apply then. Since we are dealing with increasing the height of the dumping ground we don’t want to cause any inconvenience, we will be asking the AAI and hope the increased height won’t cause any hindrance to the air traffic.”

In spite of repeated efforts, AAI remained unavailable for comment.

The Petition
'Save Chembur' Target: BMC

Chembur has been suffering due to unplanned, non-scientific dumping of garbage at Deonar. Today the already bad situation has worsened with the municipal waste from the entire city being dumped here. The dumping area has increased from 110 to 130 hectares. Worse still, the BMC has sought permission from the Airports Authority of India to raise the height of the dumping ground from 35 metres to 50 metres - as high as a 16-storeyed building.

To sign the petition, visit www.thepetitionsite.com

Related diseases

1. Skin and blood infections resulting from direct contact with waste.
2. Eye and throat irritation resulting from exposure to infected dust, especially during landfill operations.
3. Different diseases that results from the bites of animals feeding on the waste.
4. Intestinal infections that are transmitted by flies feeding on the waste.
5. Respiratory infections such as asthma and TB is caused due to toxic fumes and constant dust.

Chronic diseases
1. Risk of chronic respiratory diseases and cancer resulting from exposure to dust and hazardous compounds found in garbage. 

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