Winter worsens air pollution in the city, but for Ateeq Shaikh, 44, it’s a year-long hazard. Sitting in his sixth-floor flat at Diamond Apartments, Mahim (East), with all windows closed through the day, Shaikh blames the poor air quality for his wife Rehana’s asthma, which eventually led to her death.
Shaikh, a businessman, is concerned about the effect the pollution has on his 75-year-old mother, whose eyes burn and water. “I have lived here for three decades, and it is a nightmare. When I open the windows, I get a headache and my mother’s eyes water,” he said.
For many Mumbaiites, living in and around Dharavi is nothing short of hell. One of the largest slums in Asia, though Dharavi does not have a major industry, it is home to many scrap recycling units and small-scale industries. It houses tanneries, recycling units, pottery kilns and plastic washing units, making it one of the most polluted places in the city.
In the last pollution study of Dharavi by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in November 2010, 551.7 microgram/metre cube (ug/m3) of average suspended particulate matter (SPM) was found, a figure more than five times higher than the permissible limit set by the Central Pollution Control Board.
Though pollution is not new, it’s getting worse, say residents, pointing to the waste incineration on Sion-Mahim Link Road, which they allege has become acute. Behind a fleet of illegally parked trucks and tempos, an assortment of waste is incinerated, which abuts a huge swathe of mangroves. Every night, the illegal incineration of electronic waste, cable wires, copper wires, PVC pipes, plastic, paper and chemical dyes throws up thick plumes of odorous, toxic smoke around Naya Nagar, Mahim (east), Dharavi T-junction and Shahu Nagar.
It’s not just the smoke. “Pollutants from workshops, vehicles and the adjacent scrap yard in Mahim add to the pollution,” Shaikh said. Rakesh Kumar, chief scientist and head, Neeri, Mumbai, said: “Studies have showed that the maximum variety of pollutants is found in Dharavi. These are released from tanneries, plastic units, scrap yards and through incineration of solvents and e-waste,” he said.
Pollution from the scrap recycling units and kilns spread to Mahim, Sion and Bandra. A comparison of the January 2012 and January 2013 pollution readings by Maharashtra Pollution Control Board in Sion shows that the average respiratory suspended particulate matter (RSPM) has doubled from 101.53 ug/m3 last year to 208.89 ug/m3 this year.
This pollution can lead to recurring instances of bronchitis and other pulmonary disorders, said Dr Jalil Parkar, pulmonologist, Lilavati hospital. “In an area like Dharavi, where pollutants are not dispersed quickly, asthma patients suffer from frequent attacks,” he said.
The Dharavi Businessmen’s Welfare Association (DBWA), a body of traders with around 750 members, many of whom own recycling units, is tired of being blamed for the pollution. “A lot of electronic waste, cables and chemicals that don’t wash off easily from drums are burnt. Our association is fed up as the plastic units are blamed for it,” said Gireesh Kasat, treasurer of DBWA.
Shaikh Abu Khalid, former president of DBWA and long-time resident of Mahim, said that despite repeated complaints, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is doing little. “The MPCB and BMC should stop the incineration activities. DBWA has also written to the police, but the activities stop for a while and begin again,” Khalid said.
The BMC says it conducts raids and has sent a letter to MPCB for help to stop the incineration. “Of late, the waste being burnt has reduced,” said SN Ughade, assistant ward commissioner, G-north ward.
“A lot of municipal solid waste is incinerated near Dharavi, but we will look into the incineration of industrial waste,” said Achyut Nandwate, sub-regional officer, MPCB, in charge of monitoring Dharavi.