A week after the fire at Deonar dumping ground, schools across eastern suburbs have continued to witness low attendance. Students have been suffering from ailments caused by the heavy smog and the poor air quality index. Students of many municipal and private schools in the vicinity of the dumping ground have been complaining of breathlessness, cough and headaches. Staff of various schools also confirmed there had been a decrease in attendance and many students had returned with health complaints. BMC schools had been shut for two days after the fire but regular classes had resumed since Monday.
One of the aided schools closest to the dumping ground, less than 100 metres away from its main gate, Anjuman Rafiqul Islam Urdu High School has reported an average of 40 students being absent from classes VII to X. “Maybe not all of them are absent because of the fire but our teachers have been visiting the homes to find out why the students are absent and it was found that many had taken ill after the fire,” said Sadiq Khan, headmaster of the school. The school in Kamla Raman Nagar which has classes till X has 550 students in all. The secondary classes of the school start at 7.15 am when the smoke situation is at its worst, he added. Khan also said, “Many of my students would come to school with their mouths covered with a scarf. They came complaining that they could not see the road because of the smoke. We would close the windows, but we cannot change the surroundings,” said the school’s science teacher Akbar Khan. He added that the teachers too were being affected by daily pollution emanating from the dumping ground.
Other private schools in the area too had similar complaints. “On Tuesday, the early morning batch students had come to the school, but the air pollution level was bad. We were contemplating to send them back home but all the children live in the same area. There would be no escape,” said headmaster of Bahrul Uloom Urdu School AD Ansari. He added that with exams coming up in March, most schools did not have an option but to continue classes. Mahmood Alam, a 44-year old resident of Sanjay Nagar, said that his entire family was ill because of the air pollution. “My daughters have been coughing, vomiting and have trouble breathing. My eldest daughter who is in Class VII had to miss her exam,” Alam said.
The situation has been similar in BMC schools. “For the few days when the fire was bad, even the school premises were filled with smoke. The area has high pollution levels, but this was unprecedented,” said a staff member of a BMC school in Shivaji Nagar. The five-storey building of the school is opposite to one of the waste heaps of the dumping ground.
“After the fire, the authorities should direct for a health survey on school children in this area. I fear that they would find that children from here have a below-average health status compared to other areas,” said a staff member of a municipal school.