For Suman Goswami and thousands who live in Devguradiya – a hamlet on the outskirts of Indore best known for its age-old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva – every change of season is marked by the emergence of new allergies or illnesses.
The ailments are not due to any industrial emissions, but because of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste generated by residents of Indore that have been lying unprocessed at a dumping ground for the past four decades.
Spread over 40 acres, the Indore Municipal Corporation’s trenching ground in Devguradiya has suppressed the fame of the 900-year-old Shiva temple, its stench and thick smoke spreading over more than two kilometres in all directions.
Goswami, an inhabitant of Devguradiya, says people are at the mercy of winds bearing highly toxic particulate matter from the garbage dump on the edge of their hamlet.
“Winters bring with them respiratory problems and severe chest congestion caused by alarming levels of toxicity in the air. The rainy season comes with an upsurge in the number of houseflies and insects, accompanied with a powerful stench. And in summers, it’s life shut indoors, bereft of air coolers or fans,” she told Hindustan Times.
“Every day of the year is difficult for us. The smoke and stench which comes from the trenching ground makes life completely miserable for us.”
Kishore Kodwani, an Indore-based social activist, said about 900 metric tonnes (MT) of garbage is dumped at the Devguradiya trenching ground every day. “Only about 250 MT of waste is processed every day, leaving the rest 650 MT to pile up in the area every day,” he said.
According to the Indore Municipal Corporation and the state pollution control board, about 4 lakh MT of garbage has accumulated at the site over four decades. The wastes have taken the shape of a small hillock that is always emitting smoke.
It is not just original residents of Devguradiya like Goswami who face problems because of the pollution. City dwellers who bought villas and flats within a three-kilometre radius of the garbage dump are equally troubled.
“Respiratory problems, allergies and skin diseases are extremely common here,” said a resident of Kalindi Township.
“Almost every second person in our township has lung problems, asthama or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Those who survive respiratory problems face other problems like skin allergies, premature graying of hair or other diseases,” said Chitra Mathur, a housewife and a resident of the same colony.
Dr AN Jaiswal, an orthopaedic surgeon living in the area, said almost everyone who attended a recent health camp had some health problems.
“These were people who are very young, in the age bracket of 25 to 40. Moreover, when we took the reports of the water and air to health experts, all of them, from a gynaecologist to an oncologist, said we are in deep water,” he said.
The regional office of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) in Indore has already warned people from using groundwater in Devguradiya as it has reached a “critical” state and is unfit for drinking without adequate treatment.
A recent analysis of water collected from a tube well near the Devguradiya trenching ground revealed that various factors determining the quality of groundwater had worsened in the past two years.
Dr DK Wagela, head of the MPPCB’s local laboratory, said, “The Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) present in groundwater near the trenching site is a major cause of worry. The TDS level has touched the maximum permissible mark.”
He added, “Tonnes of garbage lying dumped in the trenching ground is the major contributor in polluting groundwater and rising air pollution levels in the area.”
But the two lakh residents of this area are almost completely dependent on groundwater as they get no piped water from the municipal body. Only a lucky few purify the water with special equipment installed in posh colonies but others have no choice but to drink the polluted water.
'Breathing toxic air can give one bronchial infection'
The levels of toxicity are alarmingly high in the area, feel pulmonologists.
“If a person continuously inhales air with a toxic level of 300 to 400 rcpm, he has high chances of getting bronchial infection, COPD and severe congestion,” Dr Sanjay Londhe, chest physician says.
The situation gets worse among children, who continuously face the problem of throat infection.
At a place like Devguradiya, the situation is more harmful as the level of toxicity increases depending on the trash and garbage burned here.
It is very difficult to identify what harmful substances are causing this kind of increase in the toxic levels in the air.
But in the long term, it could damage the lungs immensely.
As the particles get settled in lungs, they stop blood flow to the organ and make it more susceptible to other diseases.