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By Meera Sanyal
The image of Mumbai as the vibrant, cosmopolitan, economic heart of our country, has taken a beating over the past few days.
A lot has been said about the growing intolerance in our city and the impact it has on our ability to attract talent and investment. This is absolutely true. Actions taken for short-term political considerations can have a very detrimental long-term economic impact. Let us hope that leaders of industry in Mumbai speak up loud and clear and that politicians take the time to listen.
Much has been said and written about this. So let me delve a little deeper – into an issue that is just as pressing, has a major impact on Mumbai’s economy, and is easier to address. Mumbai’s coal mountains.
Almost 2 million tonnes of coal was unloaded and stock piled, during the past year, in Haji Bunder. It is a shock for most people to know that areas like Colaba, Marine Drive, Malabar Hill, Worli, Parel, Sewri, Wadala, Matunga, Dadar, Byculla, and Bandra are all within a mere 7 km distance from these coal mountains.
Coal dust from these coal mountains is carried into every home in Mumbai, leading to respiratory diseases like sinusiti, asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer.
This coal is not even meant for Mumbai – but transported to Mahagenco’s plant in Bhusaval 455 km away. Alternative ports, like Surat which has modern coal handling facilities and is about 100 km closer to Bhusaval, or even Dharamtar in Raigad district which has spare capacity, are not being used.
To protest against coal handling at Haji Bunder, due to its devastating effect on people’s health and Mumbai’s environment, Vice Admiral IC Rao and I filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court in September 2014.
After a High Court order and persistent follow up with Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, we were happy to see the Public Notice of 4 September from Mumbai Port Trust announcing the discontinuation of handling of coal at Hajee Bunder, w.e.f. 31 Oct 2015. We thought then that our view had prevailed and that the city of Mumbai would be spared henceforth the hazards from coal dust emanating from Sewri.
Regrettably, we continue to receive reports that the Government of Maharashtra is keen to continue importing coal via Haji Bunder. This despite the fact that MbPT has stated clearly that they are unwilling to invest in establishing coal handling facilities, because they wish to handle only clean cargo, and they have other plans for their valuable land. As more details emerge of behind scene discussions it appears that Mumbai’s health is also being held hostage by coalition politics.
The suffering of those afflicted with lung diseases is enormous. The loss of productivity suffered by the citizens of Mumbai and the health costs we incur due to respiratory problems are estimated to run into several thousand crores.
The pollution and degradation of Mumbai – our water, land and air is devastating and has unacceptable long term consequences.
The simple truth is, a city with pollution levels as high as ours, and with no political will to address this, cannot prosper economically.
Investment and capital cannot be attracted by mere words and glitzy conferences. Talented people move to cities where they feel safe, healthy and welcome and where they have social amenities like open spaces, cultural and recreational facilities. Global capital and investment always follows talent – thus creating a virtuous cycle of talent, investment, jobs, growth and prosperity.
Mumbai has plentiful talent – let us not drive this talent and the economic prosperity of our city away by short-sighted actions.
Please do your part by signing the petition so that the CM’s hand is strengthened to make the right decision for Mumbai. Details can be found here “Save our lungs from Coal Dust”.
– The author is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party and is the former CEO & chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland in India. Views expressed are personal.