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Why is biomedical waste plant still in our neighbourhood, ask Govandi residents

Updated on: 04 May,2022 07:34 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dipti Singh |

As February deadline lapses, residents of Govandi—reeling under cover of toxic smoke—threaten legal action if facility is not moved by the end of the month

Why is biomedical waste plant still in our neighbourhood, ask Govandi residents

Smoke emits from a chimney of the city’s lone biomedical waste treatment facility at Govandi, on Monday. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

As they are forced to inhale thick black smoke released by the city’s lone biomedical waste treatment plant at Govandi every day, residents living in its vicinity have threatened to move the National Green Tribunal against the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board if the facility is not shifted out of the city limits by this month-end. Earlier, the state had ordered the plant to be moved out of Mumbai limits by February 2022.

Why is biomedical waste plant still in our neighbourhood, ask Govandi residents

Residents from Govandi, Mankhurd, Deonar, and surrounding areas have filed repeated complaints against SMS Envoclean Pvt. Ltd. since June 2020, alleging that toxic air and black shoot are being emitted from the facility particularly due to the burning of personal protective equipment (PEE) kits, causing health problems. Acting on their complaints, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) had directed the firm and contractor to improve their scrubber technology to control the emission of thick black smoke. But locals say the plant has been brazenly coughing out shoot-filled smoke.

Trucks at the waste plant at Govandi, on Monday
Trucks at the waste plant at Govandi, on Monday

SMS Envoclean has been appointed by the BMC to deal with the city’s biomedical refuse, including the reject being generated from COVID facilities. When the BMC and MPCB gave a contract to the company in 2009 to treat Mumbai’s biomedical waste, the plan to was to have three such facilities. But the Govandi plant had to take all the load as the civic body was unable to find places for the other two plants. Over the years, toxic emissions from the plant at Govandi East became a serious health concern for the locals.

In October and November 2020, the Maharashtra environment department had directed that the plant be relocated 70 km outside of Mumbai to Khalapur by February 2022. While the deadline was later extended to May 2022, locals said, there is little or no indication that the move is taking place.

The initial directive of the state environment department followed a legal notice from locals to MPCB. “Deonar, Govandi, Shivaji Nagar, Baiganwadi, and Mankhurd, among others, are surrounded by toxic air as a result of the Deonar dumping ground; the biomedical waste treatment plant is also a major contributor to the problem,” said local resident and lawyer Saif Alam, who is representing the residents.

The plant came up in 2009, but the problem has worsened in the past 2-3 years, say locals
The plant came up in 2009, but the problem has worsened in the past 2-3 years, say locals

Alam said they also got assurances from environment minister Aaditya Thackeray. “We’ve all been very supportive and have waited patiently. Nonetheless, for hours at a time, black smoke can be seen coming out of the facility’s chimney. We will wait until the end of May this year, and if the facility is not relocated to Khalapur or outside of city limits, we will file a case against the facility and MPCB in the NGT,” he said.

‘Adding to TB woes’

Shaikh Faiyaz, who lives in the vicinity of the plant, said, “Ward M East [Govandi, Deonar] is known as a TB hotspot in the city, and many people have been diagnosed with asthma. Above all, they have been suffering as a result of the company’s thick smoke, which is exacerbating their health problems. We’ve even posted videos and photos on social media showing thick black smoke erupting from the chimney. Following our Twitter posts and complaints, the CPCB forwarded the directive to the MPCB to take action against the violators and requested an action taken report, but no MPCB officials have visited in these two days. We are considering filing a lawsuit very soon.”

‘Will verify complaints’

As locals take to social media, MPCB promised action. “We understand that residents must have seen black smoke, however, it is not necessary that it is hazardous. They have been following all stipulated norms and We will still send a team a verify the complaints by residents. The shifting of the facility is currently in the process. The environment clearance for setting up the facility in Khalapur is awaited. Until they get the clearance the facility cannot be shifted there,” said Ashok Shingare, member secretary-MPCB.

‘It’s a gimmick’

Amit Nilawar, director, SMS Envoclean called the opposition to the plant a gimmick by some people. “This is a phenomenon, well known worldwide as ‘NIMBY’ an acronym for ‘Not In My Backyard’. There are some SRA buildings coming up in the area however, the opposition and objection to the BMW treatment facility is to help boost the real estate prices. The process of shifting will cost us a huge sum, the land itself cost us R10 crore. However, we have already given a commitment and so we are working in all our capacity to shift the facility,” said Nilawar.

He added, “About shifting the facility to Khalapur, almost 90 per cent of the process is done, including the public hearing there. Two months back we have already submitted a proposal and all relevant documents to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority. Now we are awaiting their call when we will be giving them a presentation on the same. We will need an environmental clearance for shifting the facility to Khalapur.”

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