Mumbai: What started as a youth campaign in April 2020 to feed thousands of daily wagers and poor families living in shanties in Govandi, Deonar, Bainganwadi and Cheetah camp, a few of the city’s poorest quarters located close to the Deonar dumping ground, turned into a fierce legal battle to get a biomedical waste treatment plant shifted from the vicinity, that was throwing up thick black smoke throughout the pandemic. Meet 26-year-old Saif Alam who led this battle with a group of Govandi residents, and finally got the state environment ministry to pass an order to shift the biomedical waste treatment plant away from city limits.
Govandi and adjoining areas are known for the 132-hectare Deonar dumping ground, which is in the backyard of thickly populated shanties with a warren of narrow bylanes. A part of the M-East Ward, this section is the poorest part of the city and also one of the worst-hit by Covid-19 during the first and second wave of coronavirus pandemic.
It covers over 250 slums pockets. The Deonar dumping ground alone processes around 2,500 tonnes of garbage every day. SMS Envoclean company is located hardly kilometres away and has been authorised by the BMC and the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to treat biomedical waste since 2009. The area is however also a Tuberculosis (TB) hotspot of the city.
Throughout the pandemic, every day, several trucks from various quarantine and medical facilities come to the area to dispose of the biomedical waste, which if not treated properly could pose a health hazard, residents alleged.
However, the company in turn claimed that the amount of biomedical waste doubled during the pandemic, increasing the load on the city’s sole biomedical treatment plant.
Faiyaz Shaikh, a social activist and resident said, “The ward M East (Govandi, Deonar) is a TB hotspot of the city; scores of people have been diagnosed with asthma too. Above all that now they have to suffer the thick smoke from the company, aggravating their health problems. We complained to MPCB, BMC and even wrote to the environment ministry, shared pics of thick black smoke emitting from the company, no action was taken. The problem worsened after July 2020, and we were helpless.”
During the food distribution campaign, residents shared this issue with Saif Alam, after studying the case thoroughly, talking to residents in the vicinity sent a legal notice to MPCB (Maharashtra Pollution Control Board) in September for failing to take action against a biomedical treatment plant.
This made the MPCB officials visit and inspect the plant. The plant was instructed to divert 50 per cent of Covid waste to the treatment facility in Taloja.
However, Alam did not stop here. Alam wrote to the environment ministry and said that if the biomedical treatment plant is not shifted away from the city limits or they will approach National Green Tribunals (NGT). Finally, in November 2020, the state government decided to shift the city’s only biomedical treatment incineration unit, SMS Envoclean, from Govandi to Khalapur between December 2021 and February 2022.
Alam, a resident of Trombay now provides free legal aid and consultancy to the poor and underprivileged in the area. “We have started distributing food again in the area. Many of them are out of work since the first wave of covid-19. Life is very tough, hence I along with other youth in the areas distribute cooked and uncooked ration kits to the residents. We will continue our efforts and help people in this area, which are totally neglected I realised,” said Alam.
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