As another day ends at Rafi Nagar municipal school in Shivaji Nagar, students dash out, splashing through mud puddles left by rain.
A few of them, however, walk into Deonar dumping ground, bang located opposite the school, through a broken compound wall.
The children, between seven and 10 years of age, pick up objects in the landfill site and play in the water, oblivious of the toxins and chemicals they are touching.
Ten to 15 pipes also drain out leachate and sewage from the site directly on to Ahilyabai Holkar Marg and inside the school premises, where 500 students study.
Dr Rahil Qamar Siddique, who regularly reprimands the children for entering the landfill site, is the only doctor at Rajiv Gandhi Medical Centre in Shivaji Nagar, where patients from Rafi Nagar, Baba Nagar, Nirankar Nagar and Vashi come for treatment.
Started in 2007, this charity clinic is witness to the ballooning health problems caused by the city’s oldest dumping ground.
On an average, Siddique sees between 200 and 250 patients every day. In the monsoon, the numbers spiral because of water-borne infections.
Rat bites, dog bites, infections to small injuries, viral fever, scabies, rashes, asthma, bronchitis, hay fever and malaria are common ailments in the area.
“Lack of waste management and the squalor of the settlements make people ill, and the children suffer the most,” Siddique said.
“Children expose their lacerated wounds to leachate and sewage and contract infections,” he added.
“The civic body keeps increasing the height of the garbage, but it’s doing nothing to segregate or treat it,” the doctor said.
At Rafi Nagar and Baba Nagar, clean water is bought for Rs50 a drum from tankers and illegal water connections.
Despite unhealthy living conditions, a shanty closer to the road costs Rs12 lakh, while one next to the creek and mangroves costs Rs3 lakh.
Most shanties have encroached upon mangroves and are a stone’s throw away from the landfill site.
“I was born here. I stay closer to the main road because the other shanties are very close to the dumping ground. The stench and the smoke make life hell and we have to be careful about the drinking water,” said Zaitun, 32.
Almost three kilometres away, at Green Garden Apartments near RK Studio, where beautiful row houses are hidden in a canopy of large trees, the dumping ground makes its presence felt.
Kulbir Singh, 73, shifted to the area in the 1970s from Parel to get away from pollution caused by the surrounding mills.
“Chembur was once one of the cleanest and greenest parts of Mumbai. It was famous for the two tuberculosis sanatoriums when we shifted here back then, but look at the environment today,” Singh said.
“The dumping ground and the vehicles are making people sick. I cannot open the windows of our house because smoke from waste incineration and the stench make me sick and then I pass on the infection to other family members,” he added.
Singh complains that approaching the civic body has not helped. “When we complain to the local municipal ward about the problems we face, they just tell us that there is no pollution and that everything is fine.”