CHOKED IN NEGLIGENCE
From Ghatkopar and Chembur slums many residents have been shifted to the lanes in Mahul where pollutant-toxicity contaminates air and water. A silent protest staged by the residents is waiting to get the attention of the Maharashtra government.
Maheshwari Agnihotri is a School Teacher and Social Activist – based in Nashik.
Have we ever thought how the people living in urban ghettos ensure that their children breathe clean air and have access to clean water? Yes, most of us are busy ensuring these necessities for our own families while we choose to remain blind to the pathology affecting the poor.
Yes, while air-purifiers, air-conditioners and water-purifiers ensure that even if the city has polluted air and contaminated water, we don’t fall sick- what happens is that we stop thinking about the collective and become simply selfish. This individual-centric, narcissist way of life is often termed pragmatism and those who know how to do it are considered the smartest.
No wonder, those who inhabit posh multi-storey apartments in India’s metropolitan cities are thought of as leading the life that many can only dream about. But ironically, although these luxury apartments are far away in terms of spatial location from the dust and muck of the ground, still when one stands at the window one discovers the apathy of the poor who surround and perish on the margins.
One such urban slum is Mahul that is located in the suburbs of India’s business centre Mumbai. This is literally a toxic hell that people who are daily wage labourers and can’t afford to even eat two meals a day are compelled to accept as their destiny. The Mahul settlement camp is inhabited by more than 500 families of wage workers.
These people live their life in a toxic hell that is so full of industrially polluted materials that each day is almost an antithesis of life itself. The residents of Mahul have been camping in Tansa water pipeline region in Mahul since October this year.
The residents of Mahul have been staging a silent protest in this region against their inhabitable living conditions and the state’s apathy. People from the settlement join the protest from time to time throughout the day and come back to the homes only late at night.
Mahul is in the middle of a hundred toxic industries and living in this area is almost like living while waiting for death. The polluted ambience has led to widespread illness and deaths among the residents.
Most of those who have been living here have been given one room sets as tenements by the government as they had been displaced from the slums due to the government’s construction initiatives. When the inhabitants of the erstwhile slum were told that the government would rehabilitate, it seemed like a good idea but when they began staying in the new region- they came to realise it wasn’t in good taste.
There are more than 72 seven storeyed buildings in the area and they all are surrounded by a series of polluted industries such as chemical plants, oil refineries and other industries.
The area has dangerously toxic levels of pollution in terms of both air and water. The toxic environment has introduced the residents of Mahul to a series of ailments like Tuberculosis, skin ailments, asthma etc.
The residents of the area have organised into Mahul Prakalpgrast Samiti that is composed of local activists who want to get the people living in the area to be moved to another location.
Many families in Mahul are protesting against the abnormally bad living conditions in the area and are calling the Mumbai Civic Body to ensure corrective measures.
The terrible shape of Mahul has led to major ailments and a host of problems for its people. It is immensely polluted and has no facilities. Activists like Medha Patkar have also asked the government of Maharashtra to take notice of the matter and do something about the issue.
The residents have collectively organised and want to keep this movement alive. More than 30,000 people living Mahul are organising a protest to assert their rights. The slum dwellers who have been moved to Mahul earlier inhabited Ghatkopar, Bandra, Vakola and other localities but fear that the new rehabilitation which they have got is worse than where they lived earlier. Moreover, the places where they worked became so far from Mahul that they would find it hard to travel so far.
The negligence that the state has offered to them has deprived them of their source of livelihood. Absence of train connectivity and the other forms of transportation being too expensive have meant that not only are many residents unemployed but also don’t have access to healthcare or schooling. The nearest hospital is more than twelve kilometers away and there is no government school in the area. For many protesting means leaving out on a day’s income but yet we see that many men and women are protesting at Mahul and wanting to get the government’s attention to deal with its crisis. Many assert that it is far better to be without income for a couple of days than to die.
As pollution enhance and the problem of the people grows, it becomes an immediate need for the state to find a solution. They are hoping that once they start the march, the government will be compelled to listen to them. The protest is the collective effort that people in Mahul are making.