We can’t breathe, cry out residents

ByJeet Mashru and Linah Baliga
Mar 11, 2023 12:59 AM IST

Residents of Malad West and Chandivali suffer respiratory ailments after Ready Mix Concrete plants come up in residential areas and that too with all permissions

Mumbai: On January 26, Irene D’Souza, a resident of Orlem, Malad West, had to be admitted in the intensive Care Unit (ICU) of SRV Hospital after she suffered from severe vomiting and shivers. It took doctors multiple tests and chest scans to find out that she was suffering from pneumonia.

Mumbai, India - March 10, 2023: Residents of Chandivali show the ready-mix concrete (RMC) plant in the area which is causing health issues, in Mumbai, India, on Friday, March 10, 2023. (Photo by Vijay Bate/HT Photo) (HT PHOTO)
Mumbai, India - March 10, 2023: Residents of Chandivali show the ready-mix concrete (RMC) plant in the area which is causing health issues, in Mumbai, India, on Friday, March 10, 2023. (Photo by Vijay Bate/HT Photo) (HT PHOTO)

When doctors enquired whether she was living near any construction site, D’Souza realised that a RMC (Ready Mix Concrete) plant had come up in her area that has been causing severe dust and air pollution inside her house.

D’Souza wasn’t the only one to have suffered health issues. Her seven-year-old granddaughter Elia has also been put on antibiotics due to allergies and respiratory ailments.

“It feels like we are living in a prison. We have to keep our windows shut all the time. My kid can’t go down in the play area because it is just next to the plant. Besides air pollution, even the noise pollution from the site has been a major concern. We want this plant shut,” said Elia’s mother Lieta Cardoz.

The increasing construction of new buildings and redevelopment of old buildings, especially post pandemic, has seen an exponential rise in cement consumption.

“Initially, the mixing of cement used to happen at the construction sites, and then it was decided that batching should take place at these RMC plants and then transported, which is a good decision. But these RMC plants need to follow guidelines. There is no need for them to be in open. We have good technology for handling cement and other materials and all of this can be done indoors,” said Rakesh Kumar, former head, National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

Any particle that is smaller than 0.5 microns remain suspended in the atmosphere for a much longer duration.

Kumar added, “Here we are talking about cement and not just some normal dust. Cement particles are usually between 0.1 to 0.3 microns, which means they remain in atmosphere for a much longer duration. It is hazardous if inhaled and longer exposure can cause serious problems,” said Kumar.

Not far away from Irene and Elia, Liesl Valladares’ three children aged between 15 to 21 years have also been rushed to Adarsh hospital between March 6 and March 9 after they suffered severe allergies. After hospitalisation, doctors have advised Liesl to keep windows shut, use air purifiers, or even shift to another place till this plant exist.

“Not just my kids, even my asthma has returned after this plant started operating. My daughter had to miss her exams because of hospitalisations. We cannot keep our windows shut 24x7, we want this plant to be shut down.”

The RMC plant, said residents, came up in November-December. With hospitalisations and respiratory ailments becoming common, residents from the Orlem area have written multiple letters to P/North ward of BMC requesting action. Residents said they are open to moving the Bombay high court if no action is taken.

Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner, P/North ward, said, the plant has all the requisite permissions from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).

“But it is a fact that there have been dust problems in the area. I conducted a joint meeting with residents and the company, and instructed the latter to strictly follow the guidelines to reduce the dust and noise. They have said they will implement measures to bring down the dust pollution and not work beyond permitted hours. We will take an update in another meeting in next week,” said Dighavkar.

It’s the same in Chandivali too

The Chandivali Citizens Welfare Association (CCWA) and the Shapoorji Pallonji Vicinia residents have also been raising the issue of RMC plant in their area causing severe health problems to the residents.

The CCWA has written letters to MPCB and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) asking them to shut down the plant. With no action, the association on Friday submitted another letter signed by more than 150 residents to both the agencies, reiterating their demand.

Mandeep Singh Makkar, founder member of CCWA, said “The authorities cannot give permissions to both the township and RMC plant. Builders selling flats should also start mentioning in their catalogue about the health hazard that citizens may have to face after buying the flat.”

“The RMC plant may have all the permissions in place, but there is no check on whether the guidelines are followed or not by the MPCB” he added.

Manish Talwar, a resident, said he lost his father within six months of shifting to Chandivali after his interstitial lung disease aggravated. “My father had lung disease since last 4 years but it was very well managed by the doctors. It did not spread even 1% for three years when I used to live in Powai. But then we shifted to Chandivali and his health deteriorated so much that we had to rush him to a hospital where we found out that his lung was almost non-functional.”

The Talwars installed air purifiers in their home, and the AQI in the machine is on an average 400 every morning, which is way higher than the city’s average.

Dr Neeraj Kumar Tulara, consultant physician and infectious disease specialist at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, who is a resident of Chandivali and has also faced poor air quality problems, said, “We are seeing cases where patients with underlying asthma and other respiratory diseases have their symptoms aggravating and it is not easily settling down. The hazardous gases and dust particles are the main reasons. If the inhalation of such hazardous gases persists, it can cause permanent lung damage in many patients. These plants should not be close to a residential area which is very hazardous for the people.”

Legal Action

While action on legal polluting RMC plants is close to nil, the civic body will initiate legal action against two illegally operating RMC plants at Anik Village, Chembur on an industrial scale.

A letter signed by Harshad Kale, deputy municipal commissioner, Zone V on March 8 was issued to M/west ward to initiate action for non-cognisance by the RMC plant operator of a notice issued by BMC’s building proposals department on February 10 stating that permission to operate the plant was first issued on August 14, 2018 for six months on a temporary basis.

Later, permissions were extended for one RMC plant from January 21-July 20, 2019 and from February14- August 13, 2019 for the other. The civic body did not grant any further extensions.

Vishwas Mote, assistant commissioner, M/ west ward, said, “We have informed MPCB as well. The validity of RMC plant was over and they were operating without permission. We are going to take legal action and they will have to stop the activity,” he said.

The matter first came to light after RTI activist Santosh Daundkar on February 9 complained to BMC about a series of environmental and town planning violations, which had made the lives of residents in nearby buildings miserable. This notwithstanding the fact the RMC plant has been built on a highly restrictive Coastal Regulatory Zone area and that much of the plant has been set up on land reserved for a playground and a municipal school.

Daundkar’s complaint, based on which BMC issued an inspection report and initiated action, stated that heavy trucks, dumpers, cement carrier trucks spraying remnants of fine cement dust on adjoining public roads kept coming in and going out of the residential plot.

“As the cement dust dries and heavy double axel dumpers, mixers and other vehicles including BEST buses and vehicles speed up on the road and a cloud of fine dust rises forcing the people to inhale air mixed with heavy particulate matter comprising cement dust thereby ruining lives and health of people. An RMC plant can be operated only for six months and hence it should be shut down and demolished completely directing them to bring the site to pristine state,” said Daundkar in his complaint letter on February 8.

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