The water supplied to homes in the western suburbs and certain areas of Mumbai may contain chemical residue, posing serious health risks. The contamination occurs as domestic waste, bio-medical and industrial waste, animal carcass, toxic liquid and huge amounts of garbage is dumped in one of the streams that join the Vaitarna River, which supplies water to around 17 lakh homes in the city every day.
Worse: the water, which flows for 150km before reaching Mumbai, is treated only once; that too at a 30-year-old treatment plant in Bhandup, which is not entirely equipped to rid the water of some of the chemicals.
The source of the contamination is around 25km from the Vaitarna River in Nashik district, where daily more than six tonnes of waste from Igatpuri, a hill station around 130km northeast of Mumbai, is dumped by the town’s municipal council into a stream, which locals and experts said, joins the river near the Middle Vaitarna and Upper Vaitarna dams. The western suburbs and some parts of the island city get their drinking water from these dams.
How the municipal council may be contaminating drinking water in Mumbai
“Since the dams supplying water are located in forest area, we had assumed there is no chance of receiving chemically polluted water,” said AS Tawadia, hydraulic engineer of the BMC.
On a visit to the site, HT witnessed waste dumped into the stream from a four-acre illegal dump yard adjacent to it. A video captured by locals shows the municipal council emptying waste into the stream.
Although the water passes through the Bhandup treatment plant before reaching homes, it may not be entirely clean. “There is no separate stage of treatment to treat chemicals, but the bacteria in water get treated in the three stages of sedimentation, filtration and chlorination. The water sample is tested in the laboratory every hour and only after that it is released to be supplied for the city,” said Tawadia.
Environmentalists and experts are up in arms. “Filtration does not in any way treat carcinogenic particles or heavy metal. It is shocking that Igatpuri civic body is dumping waste, which is probably leading to the river getting contaminated with carcinogenic particles. It can get worse during the monsoon when rivers and its tributaries are flooded,” said Stalin D, project director of NGO Vanashakti.
Experts said the chances of Mumbaiites receiving polluted drinking water can be minimised if it is filtered properly.
“With advancing technology, there is always a scope of improving the treatment system at the Bhandup complex. But, it is well equipped to treat raw water,” said expert Madhav Chitale.
A Right to Information (RTI) query revealed the Igatpuri municipal council has no permission from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to dump waste at the site. When HT contacted the municipal council’s chief officer, Vishakha Motghare, she promised to look into the matter.
“We do not have maps or documents to know whether and where the stream meets the river. I will look into the matter and take action on illegal dumping of waste in the stream,” Motghare said. “I never instructed my department officials to dump waste into the stream. It is shocking.”
“It’s a serious issue. The BMC must take immediate action against the Igatpuri civic body if waste is being dumped close to the city’s source of water,” said Chitale.
The locals, meanwhile, took to the streets, demanding immediate shifting of the illegal dump yard. The waste is so haphazardly dumped that a road connecting a few villages to the municipal hospital is completely blocked, they said. “Many times when we protested against the dumping ground, the police took away our children and kept them at the police station,” alleged Krishna Kamdi, a local.
Motghare confirmed the civic body does not have permission to dump waste at the current location. “We understand that the locals are suffering, but we have no option than dumping waste at the existing site. We had identified a plot for the dumping ground, but it is under litigation.”
Even the opposition parties have joined in to up the ante. Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said, “A FIR must be filed immediately by the BMC against the Igatpuri municipal council. This practice [dumping waste] is shocking.”