The fire at BPCL on Wednesday afternoon triggered protests from those residing in the vicinity of the refinery, who complained that they face health hazards daily. The residents of the 72 MHADA buildings at Mahul, most of them rehabilitated by the state government after their tenements had to be demolished, raised slogans against Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, urging them to pay heed to their plight after Wednesday’s fire.
Durga Kashte, a resident of the MHADA colony, who works as a domestic help and has been living in Mahul for a year and a half, said, “I was washing clothes when the entire bathroom shook. My daughter was at school and I was worried for her. I left everything and ran to the school to get her. Windows in some houses in our building were damaged. The refinery has become a health hazards for us. We no longer feel safe staying so close to the refinery.”
“When we were being rehabilitated here, we were told that out houses would be 3 km away from the refinery. We are, however, less than a kilometre away from it,” she said.
Pooja Pandit, another resident of the MHADA colony, said, “There is not one family in all the buildings that doesn’t have a member suffering from health issues due to the proximity to the refinery. As a result of the gasses emitted from the refinery, there is this constant smell which makes even eating food difficult. The water too is bad. On top of that accidents like today’s can happen anytime. This is like dying a little everyday…”
Apart from citizens activists too pointed out the risks involved in staying in such an area. Stalin Dayanand, environmentalist who has often supported the residents’ demand to be shifted to a safer place, said, “Since it is a heavily industrialised area accidents are bound to happen. It is stupid to push humans to live in an industrial area. The government is waiting for a Bhopal gas tragedy to happen here.”
Meanwhile, Bilal Khan, an activist who has been fighting for their evacuation in court, called it a slow holocaust. “Living in an industrial area is a risk to their health. In 2015 the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to set up a buffer zone between the industrial and residential area in four months. However, it has still not been done. Earlier this year MPCB admitted that the Benzene levels in the air is much higher than the permissible levels. This can cause cancer. Today there is not a single person in the area who is not suffering from a disease. It is a slow holocaust,” said Khan.