The 10,000 residents of Hari Om Nagar, who live at the periphery of the Mulund dumping ground, relived the nightmare of yet another fire at the dump on Monday.
While the BMC has maintained that the fires can only be doused and not prevented in the present conditions, the long list of issues faced by the residents, including health hazards, continued to grow.
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“I have a severe throat infection since the fire and cannot stand to open my windows. The dense grey smoke is unbearable and so is the stench from the dumping ground,” said a resident, who has been living in one of the 35 cooperative societies that make up Hari Om Nagar for the last seven years. While buying the flat in the area she was told that the dumping ground would be closed in a span of two years. She now sees no respite from the dumpyard and fears for the health of her children who attend the Nalanda Public School which is also in the vicinity.
Another resident, Anil Mankar, who has been living in the area since 2005, said, “The doctors have diagnosed me to have lost my sense of smell completely due to the several fires at the ground.” Ragpickers have set up illegal settlements around the ground. “Just a month back, we got them cleared from there and now, they are all back in the same place. This occupation will slowly grow larger and larger and turn the area into a slum,” complained Mankar.
Hari Om Nagar and its numerous cooperative societies have existed in the area for the last 16 years and those who bought their apartments in the early 2000s claim that the dumping activity was not as extensive and often downplayed by the developers. As their homes are hardly 50 metres away from the dumping ground, many of these residents complained of the health hazard posed by the dumpyard during the rains. “It becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes during the monsoon when the stench of the waste becomes worse,” said Neha Moghe, resident of Hari Om Nagar.
Prabhakar Sonawane, Chairman of the Hari Om Nagar Apex Body Federation (HONAFE) said, “We have no respite from the ground at any time of the year. The heat currently is releasing poisonous fumes and the fire has worsened the situation. Every resident is forced to keep their windows shut at all times.”
Sonawane enlisted their battle to shut the dumping ground as one marked with numerous protests, dharnas and even the public adoption of NOTA by the residents during the 2014 elections to get their concerns noticed by the political class. According to him, the residents of Hari Om Nagar had filed a petition regarding the issue in the High Court in 2005, following which the court ordered the closing of the Mulund dumping ground in 2006, as was done with the ground in Gorai. However, recently the High Court extended the date of the same to May 2017 due to practical difficulties.
Around eight months back, residents of Hari Om Nagar accompanied by MP Kirit Somaiya filed an FIR against the municipal corporation authorities for the lackluster efforts in shutting the dumping ground which posed a great environmental threat.
Sonawane said, “We have tried everything and appealed to every institution. If the financial capital of this country cannot manage its waste efficiently despite the presence of funds, technology and public will, then what is the way out for us?”