It was their dogged fight that led the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ask four companies to pay Rs 286.2 crore for the damage they caused to the environment by emitting “volatile organic compounds” in Mahul, Ambapada and Chembur in Mumbai.
While residents of Mahul Koliwada are happy with the penalty imposed, the original petitioners in the case are a bit forlorn. They are straddled with a massive debt following their legal battle with the four corporate giants — Sea Lord Containers Limited, Aegis Logistics Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).
“We were hoping that in addition to the environmental damage, the order will also include compensation for the petitioners. Petitioners have used up their savings, mortgaged properties and borrowed money to continue this fight. However, we have not received financial compensation. We had received Rs 15 lakh as interim compensation but that was spent in clearing our legal debt,” said the son of petitioner Dayaram Mahulkar.
“With the lockdown, things are even worse now. People who have lent us money, want their money back urgently,” he added.
The NGT verdict came on an application filed by four residents of Mahul — Charudatt Pandurang Koli, Mohan Laxman Mhatre, Dattaram Laxman Koli and Mahulkar. The plea was filed in 2014, but their fight against the setting up of industrial units within the village had started in 2010.
As many as 140 residents from Mahul were detained for protesting against the underground pipe work started by Sea Lord Containers Limited in 2010, said Mahulkar’s son. “The Mumbai civic body’s environment department had said that it had not given a no objection certificate to the company to lay down the pipeline. Still, work continued.”
The bench on Friday ordered a 10-member joint committee – comprising two senior nominees of the Central Pollution Control Board, representative of the Environment Ministry, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), district magistrate, NEERI, TISS, IIT-Mumbai, KEM Hospital and a nominee of the Maharashtra health secretary — to prepare a five-year action plan on reducing pollution.
“What will this committee come up with? A committee set up earlier to prepare an action plan to reduce emissions… residents are still facing toxic emissions. Residents’ demand for a permanent closure of Sealord Containers, located 10 m from the village, has fallen on deaf ears,” a resident said.
A survey by MPCB in 2014 had found the presence of 21 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Mahul. They included benzene, styrene, toluene, xylenes, diethylbenzene, trimethylbenzene and dichlorobenzenes. Mainly released by industrial units, VOCs are known to attack the central nervous system, causing irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.
The scariest was the rate of toluene reported in the air — 0.169 parts per million, much higher than the threshold of 0.021 ppm. Toluene can affect kidney and liver and impair the immune system. Toluene, the report added, was released by BPCL and HPCL.
The same year, a King Edward Memorial Hospital study report had stated that the impact on the health of Mahul residents was similar to toluene diisocyanate exposure, which can attack the respiratory tract and cause asthma. It added that 67.1 per cent of Mahul’s population suffered from breathlessness, 86.6 per cent from eye irritation and 84.5 percent felt a choking sensation.
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