The developer of a slum rehabilitation project in Worli will have to file an affidavit in the Bombay high court by February 7, responding to allegations that he had provided rehabilitated slum dwellers with contaminated drinking water.
A division bench of justice PB Majmudar and justice Amjad Sayed directed Messrs MY Lokhandwala Shelters to file the affidavit in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two activists following the death of two pregnant women in a Worli slum in April 2010 due to jaundice.
The petitioners, Siddharth Khandagale and Rajnish Kamble, said that Vrushali Pawar, 26, and Kavita Aitala, 23, residents of a slum on E Moses road, had taken ill due to contaminated water.
The petitioner’s advocate, Rakesh Agrawal, told the court that residents of Harmony Tower, which the developer built under the slum rehabilitation scheme, were provided with clean water while the slum dwellers, who were shifted to transit camps and the building constructed for them under the same scheme, are supplied unclean water.
The PIL claimed that between February and March 2010 at least 400 slumdwellers contracted jaundice.
The petitioners said they had even lodged a complaint with the Worli police, which did not take any action.
“In no civilian [sic] society, citizen can [sic] be allowed to suffer physical disease due to impure water and air,” justice Majmudar said.
“It is the duty of the corporation [to ensure] that hygiene is maintained. The death of two pregnant women means four lives were lost. We hope this is serious enough issue for the corporation to act.”
Shubha Ajitkumar, advocate for the BMC, told the court that the corporation had disconnected the water connection when the redevelopment project was undertaken and after the buildings were constructed, the connection was diverted to the new building.
The redevelopment project was undertaken in 1998. At the time, the assistant municipal commissioner of the G-South ward had said that the building and transit camp meant for the slumdwellers had been given an illegal water connection.
He had said that the BMC was not responsible for contaminated water.
“This is an eye-opening case for the civic body. We hope corporation will take appropriate action so that innocent citizens do not die. It is the duty of the police and the corporation to initiate prosecution against the guilty,” the high court said.
The petition seeks compensation for the families of the deceased from the authorities.
‘Punish officials neglecting water contamination’
Mumbai: Reacting to the Bombay high court’s remarks against the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) over water contamination, the corporation and the Shiv Sena, which rules the BMC, said the mistakes would be rectified.
“The BMC doesn’t supply contaminated water deliberately,” mayor Shraddha Jadhav said. “However strict action should be taken against the responsible officials. It is the obligatory duty of the BMC to supply clean and potable water.”
Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray put the blame on the state government. “The BMC is always the soft target and is blamed for anything that goes wrong in the city,” Uddhav said. “But the BMC has limited powers. It is the state government that has more powers.”
Rajiv Jalota, additional municipal commissioner said: “If we get complaints of contamination, we try to identify and rectify the source of contamination promptly,” he said.
Rahul Shewale, chairman of civic standing committee, said it was unfortunate that two women lost their lives due to the BMC’s negligence. “The civic administration should not take it lightly and should punish the engineer responsible for the concerned ward and also contractors responsible for repairing the pipe line,” Shewale said.
With the number of complaints of water contamination increasing, corporators have said that the official from the hydraulic department, who is found to be neglecting his duty, should be suspended. “There have been several instances of contamination in the city, but not even a single official from the water department has been punished,” Shewale said.
The Hindustan Times has been consistently highlighting the alarming levels of contamination in Mumbai’s water.
The HT had first reported in August 2010 that the BMC’s annual environment status report shows that contamination across all 24 wards had increased to 26.10% in 2009-2010 from 13.8% in 2008-2009.
Jalota said it was essential to locate the point of contamination. “Old and damaged pipes, and unclean overhead and underground tanks at the consumer level could also lead to contamination,” he said.
The HT had also collected samples from 10 housing societies across the city in December 2010 and got them tested at the civic lab. It was found that water in six of the 10 societies was unfit for consumption.