Year after fed-up Govandi and Deonar residents moved National Green Tribunal against plant that they claim is giving them TB, and following mid-day’s sustained reportage, tribunal constitutes committee to visit site and take appropriate legal action at the earliest
Smoke billows from the biomedical waste treatment plant, at Shivaji Nagar, Govandi. Pic/Satej Shinde
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday constituted a committee of the pollution control boards and the district magistrate to investigate environmental violations by SMS Envoclean, which runs a biomedical plant at Govandi-Deonar. The green body, which heard residents’ plea for the first time in a year, directed the panel to submit an action-taken report within two months.
Residents of Govandi and Deonar had filed the petition at NGT in April 2022, alleging that tuberculosis (TB) in the area has aggravated because of the pollution caused by SMS Envoclean’s biomedical waste treatment plant at Shivaji Nagar. At the first hearing held on Monday, the NGT formed the panel comprising members of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the district magistrate.
Residents’ long battle to move the Envoclean plant out of the city suffered a setback when the state government last year denied environmental clearance for shifting the facility to Khalapur in Raigad district. The relocation plan was then delayed for another two years. In their petition, residents said that the incidence of TB infections increased since Envoclean opened the plant in the area and further worsened in the past five years. The M East ward (Govandi, Deonar) is known as the TB hotspot of Mumbai.
“The allegations are that a biomedical waste plant named SMS Envoclean Pvt Ltd is running in the middle of the city of Mumbai, adjacent to the slum of Mankhurd and Govandi, causing air pollution and spreading various kinds of diseases, like TB, among the slum dwellers. The local authorities can look into the grievance raised in this petition,” the NGT order stated.
The biomedical waste treatment plant is located next to several slum pockets in Govandi and Deonar. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
It said that the panel “shall visit the site to collect relevant information” and take appropriate remedial action in accordance with law within two months time if any violation of environmental laws and norms is found. “The action taken report should be submitted to the registrar western zone bench in Pune,” it added.
Advocate Saif Alam, residents’ lawyer, said, “MPCB and CPCB will be accountable now that the NGT has ordered them to investigate the matter and take action. They had ignored several of our complaints. We don’t have any scientific study on the number of TB cases and deaths in the area, except replies to RTI queries from BMC’s health department. Hence the NGT decided to constitute a joint committee to investigate the matter.”
1,877 TB deaths in 7.5 years
According to data gathered through RTI in September 2022, at least 5,000 people are diagnosed with TB in the ward every year, and the disease claimed 1,877 lives between 2013 and May 2022. “I have also questioned that when SMS Envoclean failed to acquire environmental clearance (EC) to shift the plant to Khalapur, a less populated area, how can they operate it in Govandi-Deonar which is densely populated, with a huge slum near the plant?” Alam asked. The petition stated that the incinerators lacked “dioxin-and furan-controlling devices”. Moreover, since there is no buffer zone of 500 metres to reduce the impact of emissions on public’s health, it is evident that the effusion of toxic gas is behind the illness in the area.
Faiyaz Alam Shaikh, a resident of Shivaji Nagar in Govandi and founder-president of NGO New Sangam Welfare Society, said, “With the Deonar dumping ground around, and waste-to-energy-treatment plant and RMC (Ready Mix Concrete) plant coming up in the vicinity, we have all sources of pollution present in our backyard, increasing health hazards. We have been encouraging more and more people to set up portable air quality monitoring devices at their homes. I have done this myself. With the help of these devices, we will have data to show them as our voices are ignored. The air quality index (AQI) in our area has been worsening day by day and the local authorities are doing nothing about it. They should have constituted a committee long back to study the health hazards from all these plants.”
Pollution control panel holds first meeting
The first meeting of the special committee constituted to prepare standard operating procedures (SOP) to prevent pollution, was held at the BMC on Tuesday. Private companies made presentations on air purification technology. The committee has decided to hold a workshop for all stakeholders on Friday, to rapidly implement air and dust pollution measures in Mumbai. Civic chief I S Chahal had formed a 7-member committee under the leadership of Additional Municipal Commissioner Dr Sanjeev Kumar. The committee is working with experts from government organisations like the Central and State pollution control boards, IIT-Bombay, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the India Meteorological Department, and an expert of pulmonary medicine at KEM Hospital, Dr Amita Athavale to find ways to fight air pollution. Members of the technical advisory committee also participated in the meeting.
No of TB cases Govandi, Deonar reports every year