RESIDENTS of M East ward are regulars at clinics for recurring episodes of respiratory problems owing to the air pollution caused by one of Asia’s largest garbage dumping sites. The largest chunk of the city’s solid waste is brought to the 94-year-old Deonar dumping ground, already the cause of ailments for residents living in the slums around the dumping ground. Last year’s massive fires spread the misery all the way to homes in Chembur and Navi Mumbai.
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Samajwadi Party corporator Rais Shaikh, who represents Ward 132, says the dumping ground has become a health hazard especially for those who live near the site. “The average life expectancy of people living in the area has dropped drastically, which is a worrying sign. Apart from the fires in the dumping ground, the harmful gases emitted from biomedical waste units add to the high air pollution in the ward,” he says. Shaikh adds that the civic body’s plan to set up the waste-to-energy plant will only add to the residents’ woes.
Areas such as Rafiq Nagar and Shivaji Nagar suffer from the worst repercussions. Reshma Nevarekar, Samajwadi Party corporator from Ward 129, says lack of health posts is an added problem. “The constantly decomposing wet waste coupled with pocket fires is a fertile ground for all kinds of diseases. Many people who live in Rafiq Nagar or Shivaji Nagar have contracted tuberculosis,” she says.
As the ward comprises mostly slums, Shivaji Nagar, Rafiq Nagar, Sanjay Nagar and Mankhurd are also in need of good civic-run schools, adequate medical and sanitation facilities. A survey conducted by NGO Apnalaya in Shivaji Nagar has pointed out that even though there is a worrying infant mortality rate of 55 (per 1,000 live births), there are currently no maternity hospitals in M East Ward and that people have to depend on just one dispensary and four health posts. Nevarekar agees. “Previously, there were two maternity hospitals, which were in a dilapidated condition and were eventually shut down two years ago. Since then, the BMC has not taken any step to offer an alternative to the people,” she said.
Most homes also don’t have running water supply, leading to a high incidence of water thefts and, consequently water contamination. According to the BMC’s Environment Status Report 2015, 5 per cent of the water samples were found unfit for consumption in 2015-16, above the city’s average of 4.6 per cent. Ward 140 corporator Usha Kamble of the Congress says, “Apart from the water mafia operating in the area, there is a problem of water pressure in hilly areas such as Sahyadri Nagar.”
Corporators also highlight the poor quality of BMC-run schools in the area and stress on the need for more English-medium schools. According to the ward office, there are 74 primary and only six secondary schools catering to around 47,000 students. While majority of the schools are either Marathi or Urdu medium, four offer English medium education. There is shortage of buildings too, which means the existing schools are severely cramped. Currently, all 80 schools are packed in around 30 buildings.
According to the findings of Apnalaya’s survey, around 31 per cent of the female population in Shivaji Nagar, which covers three wards in M East, is illiterate, while more than 53 per cent of the population is educated only till Class VIII. The situation is similar for the male population. Around 24 per cent of them are illiterate, while around 56 per cent have received education only till Class VIII.
Incidentally, one of the corporators from M East, Rahul Shewale of Ward 134, was elected Lok Sabha MP in 2014. Promising relief for the residents of Mankhurd village in the coming years, the Sena MP says improving sanitation facilities is among his priorities. “The slums were initially in no- development zone due to which the BMC was not able to provide many of the amenities. However, in the revised draft of the Development Plan, I have submitted my suggestion to change the reservation to residential. Once the change has been made, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority can create accommodation for them and the issue of toilets can also be tackled,” he says.
The area currently has 13 wards of which four have corporators from Samajwadi Party, three from Sena, two from Congress and one each from the BJP, the Shetkari Kamgar Party and the Bharatiya Republican Party Bahujan Mahasangh. After the delimitation process, the number of electoral wards has increased to 15.