A FRESH blaze at the Deonar dumping ground, fanned by high-speed winds, caused a small flutter among civic officials and residents of the eastern suburbs — repeated fires in the city’s oldest dumping ground, long past its usable life, led to global embarrassment for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and multiple health hazards for residents from the noxious fumes. Friday’s fire eventually emerged as only another pocket fire, but with the amount of waste generation increasing in Mumbai each passing year, the BMC is increasingly aware that with every new fire its challenge will be not only to grapple with waste processing but also the resulting never-ending litigation.
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Since 2005, around 16 petitions have been filed against various dumping grounds in Mumbai, the maximum being against the Kanjurmarg dumping ground, which is supposed to be the first dumping ground in the city where the waste is supposed to be processed.
The two dumping grounds in the city at Deonar and Mulund are only allowed to be operational till June 2017. In March last year, the BMC had filed an application before the High Court (HC) in the matter, seeking exemption from immediate discontinuation and closure of the Mulund and Deonar dumping grounds. Thousands of documents have been put into files by the corporation to fight this battle.
The HC, after going through the affidavits filed by the state and the corporation, had noted that there is absolutely no possibility of compliance of solid-waste management rules by 2019 to scientifically treat garbage, which by then could have gone up to 15,000 metric tonnes due to ongoing constructions in the city.
Thereafter, the HC stayed new constructions, stating that the state and the BMC had failed to comply with the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) rules at the Deonar and Mulund dumping grounds, which are working well past their capacity. However, the stay did not apply to redevelopment projects.
At Kanjurmarg, the litigations date back to 2005. The litigations pertain to dumping of waste in wetlands and mangroves, change in use of technology in treating the waste, construction of a boundary wall around the dumping ground and, most recently, a litigation by residents living around the dumping ground.
“Kanjurmarg was supposed to be the new scientific solution to the waste problem in Mumbai, which would resolve the issue till 2030. But even after it has become operational the situation has not improved. In 2009, the National Green Tribunal had dismissed a petition against Kanjurmarg, stating it would set an example. Thereafter, in 2011, we approached the High Court, challenging the environmental clearance as the BMC had made changes in technology. The last petition filed was regarding the construction of a wall around the dumping ground,” said Stalin from Vanshakti, an NGO, which has filed several cases against the operation of the Kanjurmarg dumping ground.
In a recent order against the construction of the wall, the HC had noted that the BMC, which was supposed to take active steps to prevent illegal constructions in Mumbai, had itself indulged in unauthorised constructions by building a compound wall around the dumping ground in an ecologically fragile area. The court further observed that this action led to the degradation and destruction of the ecologically sensitive areas and the mangroves.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court (SC) granted a six-week extension to the BMC on a Bombay HC order to demolish the compound wall. The BMC told the SC that it had received approval from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) for the use of additional 52 hectares for the plant. The Supreme Court asked the BMC to file a review petition before the Bombay HC within two weeks against the order.
Meanwhile, the residents living in the area have approached court against the stench it is raising. Sanjay Yevale, who is the petitioner in the case filed by the Kannamwar CGHS Association in the area, said, “The smell is impossible to bear. We, therefore, approached the High Court. The BMC had told the SC that it was going to set up a processing plant but they are still dumping garbage there. This is leading to health problems. We have certificates from doctors to prove this,” he said.
In Deonar and Mulund also, residents have filed litigations complaining about health problems being faced by them, especially after the fires in the Deonar landfill site.
Dr Sandeep Rane, a cardiologist and resident of Chembur, had filed a petition in 1996, raising the issue of the nuisance of smell from the Deonar dumping ground. According to the BMC, this was the first case filed against any dumping ground site in the city and was disposed of in 2011. Another petition was filed in 2009 by Rishi Aggarwal, an environmentalist, regarding the tipping fees being paid to the Deonar dumping ground contractor.
In case of the Mulund dumping ground, Pandurang Patil had filed a civic application in 2013 on a PIL on the issue of not to dump garbage. In 2015, the Sunstream City Pvt Ltd filed two writ petitions in 2012 and 2015, raising the issue of removing the obstruction caused to the access road for the Eastern Express Highway. Both cases are being heard by the HC.
Even as the BMC is set to start using the plot at Karvale village in Ambernath and another plot near the Airoli bridge in Mulund (E) for dumping garbage and setting up the scientific waste-processing plant, both projects have been facing opposition. The state government has given “advance possession” of 38.87 hectares and 32.77 hectares respectively.
“In case of Mulund, officials from the Development Plan department and SWM along with officials from the Collector’s office had gone for the joint measurement for actual possession of the land. But, officials from the salt commissioner’s office raised objections, stating that the land belongs to them. Now, the matter is being dealt with by the Collector,” said a senior official from the Development Plan department.
A senior SWM official said, “We have learnt that the salt commissioner has gone to court against the Collector for handing over the land to us.”
“Also, we have received letters from NGOs and locals on the proposed dumping ground sites, opposing them in their backyards. Some of the letters are from politicians of ruling parties. In case of a plot in Karvale village, the issue of tribals have been raised. So, it seems they will go to court in the coming months, opposing the sites,” added the official.
The official said most of their time was being consumed in court cases. “The cases are filed before the HC, SC and NGT on the same issues. Also, the Central and state pollution control boards keep issuing notices on various issues. So, we have to submit replies to all these petitions and notices. We have been left with less time for actual work on the dumping ground projects. We feel we have become lawyers over the years,” added the official.