The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has rejected the BMC’s proposal for a permanent base at the Deonar fire brigade station citing its proximity to the dumping ground. Both agencies are now reconsidering setting up the NDRF base at the fire brigade station in Mankhurd. While the Mumbai civic body claims the location of the base in Deonar is being reconsidered owing to its accessibility, the NDRF has, in fact, raised a stink over its proximity to the dumping ground leaking hazardous chemicals.
The NDRF has been seeking a permanent base in Mumbai since 2012. The BMC and the NDRF had initially agreed to allocating the Mankhurd fire brigade station for the NDRF base. However, NDRF officials said, the BMC, after a three-year search, offered the NDRF the Deonar Fire Brigade station in 2015. The NDRF has completed a detailed survey of the fire station and finished mapping the use of the building complex. “We had done all the planning for the building in Mankhurd,” said Anupam Shrivastav, Comman-dant, 5th Battalion, NDRF.
The NDRF requires space to house its personnel and their families at the base, and in addition requires space to store equipment, set up a control room, kitchens and restrooms. However, after the NDRF’s headquarters in Delhi had sent its final plans to the BMC in 2015, the civic body returned with an offer to house them permanently at Deonar, instead.
Last month, however, after a detailed examination of the Deonar fire station and surrounding locality, the NDRF communicated to the BMC that the space, located less than 3 km away from an entrance to the dumping ground, was unfit for occupation. “The proposed location is very close to the dumping ground, which is the oldest and largest in India. A number of hazardous gases and chemicals leak from the dumping ground, so the location is not feasible for long term stay,” said Shrivastav.
The NDRF is the country’s specialised agency dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats and is trained to react in events of chemical leaks and biological terror attacks among others. Among the 5th Battalion’s most important responsibilities in Maharashtra is monitoring the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai and the Tarapur Atomic Power Station.
In its communication to the BMC, the NDRF also pointed out the alarmingly high prevalence of respiratory diseases among those who live near the dump, apart from a high maternal mortality rate in the immediate outer locality. Mahesh Narvekar, who heads the BMC’s Disaster Management Cell, however, denied that health hazards led to the Deonar fire station being ruled out from consideration as a base.
“There are other issues. They (NDRF) said the location was not accessible from the highway and that there wasn’t enough space for them to set up a regional command centre. There are also technical issues as the plot has been reserved for use as a fire brigade station,” said Narvekar. He added that the BMC was now finalising the Mankhurd fire brigade station as a permanent base.
Shrivastav said the Mankhurd fire station was a much better location in comparison. “It is 5-6 km away from the dumping ground. We need a base from where we can cover the whole of Mumbai,” he said. Three teams of the NDRF’s 5th Battalion, headquartered in Pune, have been stationed at the Andheri Sports Complex since 2010. In 2012, the Union Home Ministry had approved permanent bases for the NDRF in each of the country’s metropolitan cities so that the agency could respond in the event of a disaster. Among other discarded locations was an abandoned fire brigade station in Borivali East, which the BMC found not feasible in 2014 as it had been allotted in the city’s then development plan for a civilian training centre.
This year, the NDRF has been pressed into service during the rescue operations after buildings collapsed in Ghatkopar in July, and most recently in Chandivali and in Bhendi Bazar on August 31 in which 33 people were killed.
The NDRF played a prominent role in the search and rescue operations when a building a collapsed in Mumbra in 2013, killing 74 people. The same year, it was called in by the BMC when the civic body’s market department quarters in Dockyard Road collapsed, in which 61 residents died. In 2015, it had also responded to a deadly blaze in Kalbadevi, which claimed the lives of Assistant Divisional Fire Officer S W Rane and station officer M N Desai. It addition, it was called by the Thane Municipal Corporation that year after several buildings collapsed in Thane. NDRF teams from Mumbai had also rushed to Mahad in Raigad district when more than 40 people were swept away by the Savitri river after a bridge collapsed.