Exposed to diseases, ragpickers live alongside the city’s largest dump

  • Harshraj Singh, Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
  • Updated: Oct 06, 2014 10:26 IST

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has no meaning for over 100 slum-dwellers staying in the vicinity of city’s main garbage dump spread in 45 acres near Kakka Road.

Unaware of the ill-effects of chemicals that emanate from decaying garbage, these slum-dwellers continue to live at a mere distance of five metres from the garbage dump where heaps of waste are taller than their slums.

These slum-dwellers have been staying under the most insanitary conditions for more than 10 years as they make money by searching through the waste. They refuse to the move to another location as they have no other means of income.

Despite living below the poverty line, they claim that they have never received any benefit of government’s schemes, including blue card or others to get ration at subsidised rates.

Worse, the vast dump has never been evaluated to check the types of chemicals it contains or the chemicals that it may be releasing, neither have the people living in its vicinity been ever medically examined.

The only source of drinking water is a hand pump, which often pumps out contaminated water, and is surrounded by garbage and stagnating water filled with algae. Left with no choice, these slum-dwellers continue to use the same contaminated water for drinking and everyday use.

On being asked, the slumdwellers, majority of them natives of other states, claimed that only polio teams reached there to administer polio drops, and nobody from the civic body or health department ever came, even as they survey rest of the city for presence of mosquito larvae.

Ram Ashish Sahni, a local, said, “We had no job so we came here to make a living. We started searching waste to find recyclable things to sell them to scrap dealers. While earlier, when the dump was managed by the municipal corporation, we could simply look for valuable materials; now, I pay Rs 500 to A2Z to be allowed to pick things from the waste.

Besides, my jhuggi is located on a private land, whose owner charges each slum-dweller a monthly rent of Rs 300.”
Jagjeet Singh Mann, president of Watavaran Sambhal Society, an NGO, said, “I have met these people.

They are consuming dirty water and living in the most unhygienic conditions, but they are not ready to shift to any other place as they are very poor. These people need urgent medical examination.”

“Even people living at a distance of 1-2 kms suffer due to bad stink from the dump, but these people live right next to the dumps. They need to be made aware so that they would take precautions,” he added. “Many of the children living in these slums don't go to school and vulnerable to various childhood diseases in absence of any vaccination or precautions,” added Mann, who is also a teacher.

Varinder Pathak, a city-based lecturer of chemistry, said, “Toxic gases from the dump can enter the respiratory system through air and cause several diseases. Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases are common at garbage dumps.
Besides, they are also absorbed by the earth, which leads to pollution of ground water.”

When contacted, AS Sekhon, chief of health and sanitation wing, MC, said, “I will look into the matter."

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