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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Bombay HC restrains state from moving PAP to polluted Mahul

A division bench of chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Bharati Dangre also directed the government to offer permanent alternative accommodation to around 5,500 families, who are “compelled” to live in the highly polluted industrial area.

mumbai Updated: Sep 24, 2019 13:01 IST
Kanchan Chaudhari
Kanchan Chaudhari
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Project-affected people (PAP) had complained that the air was highly polluted in Mahul owing to the presence of heavy industries.
Project-affected people (PAP) had complained that the air was highly polluted in Mahul owing to the presence of heavy industries.(HT PHOTO)
         

Taking note of the high level of air pollution in Mahul, the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday restrained the state government from shifting any slumdwellers or project-affected people (PAP) to Eversmile Complex, the PAP colony in the locality.

A division bench of chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Bharati Dangre also directed the government to offer permanent alternative accommodation to around 5,500 families, who are “compelled” to live in the highly polluted industrial area.

The court directed that upon filing an application to move out of Mahul, the government should pay each family Rs 15,000 a month towards rent and an additional amount of Rs 45,000 towards a security deposit, till the time the accommodation becomes available. The PAP had challenged their rehabilitation at Mahul on the grounds that the area was highly polluted and posed a high risk to their health.

They complained the air was highly polluted owing to the presence of heavy industries.

The court was hearing three petitions.

One of the petitions was filed by a group of PAP, who lived close to pipelines supplying water to the city and who had been offered accommodation at Eversmile Complex, which has 17,205 tenements in 72 buildings.

A second petition was filed by a group of people already living in the PAP colony, whereas the third petition was filed by the state government, challenging a 2015 order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), issuing certain directions, regarding the PAP colony.

They also complained that the PAP colony was bereft of hygienic conditions and basic amenities, including schools and medical facilities, and pointed out that the presence of residents in the near vicinity of the refineries is seen as threat to the safety of the industrial units. In support of their contentions, they relied on the NGT judgement of December 18, 2015, holding that there was a perceptible threat to the health of the residents of the area owing to the prevailing poor air.

The state government opposed their plea and contended that the NGT should not have generalised the condition prevailing for a certain period and claimed that the situation had later improved.

The HC, however, refused to believe in the state’s claim in view of the reports of the central and state pollution boards, the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

Judges noted that the IIT-B report was self-explanatory and portrayed an irrefutable picture of the locality. They noted that the report pointed towards highly toxic air in the area and the reports by the pollution boards pointed out that the situation has worsened, rather than improving.

For example, the judges noted the presence of high quantity of harmful volatile organic compounds like Benzene. While the ambient air quality standards permit maximum of 5 microgram / cubic metre, the IIT-B report revealed that the area marked the presence of Benzene, ranging from 11.4 micro grams per cubic metre to 1039.7 micro grams per cubic metre. The bench said “this is proof of the fact that far from there being any improvement in ambient air quality at the site, the situation has deteriorated.

The judges also took note of a report by the KEM Hospital, which stated that most of the residents of the locality showed acute symptoms of breathing difficulties, severe lung-related issues, dry chough, eyes and skin irritation.

Meanwhile, activists, like Bilal Khan, who helped residents to take up the fight against the unliveable conditions, welcomed the high court verdict.

The 27-year-old activist said the presence of high levels of volatile organic compounds makes the air in the area harmful for the residents. The odour in the air is the hard evidence of extent of pollution here, said Khan, who has been working for the betterment of the residents of the locality under the banner of Ghar Bachao Ghar Bano Andolan.

He said no wonder a large number of residents here have skin diseases. Tuberculosis and asthma are equally prevalent. But, what is worse, he said, are the cases of cancer. A few days ago, Bilal came across a woman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, barely six months after she shifted to Mahul. The deadly disease has now spread to other parts of her body.

Khan added that the water pollution was equally bad. “You will find a clear layer of chemicals on top if you take a glass of water and let it settle,” he said. “I had been to a house where a white towel was being used to filter water. I was shocked after knowing that the towel was originally brown. It had turned white after it was used to filter water for a few days.”

First Published: Sep 24, 2019 00:09 IST

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