If you have travelled along Mumbai’s Harbour line, then you would have definitely come across heaps of coal that have been dumped on open land. While you may choose to walk away, considering it little more than a harmless coal pile, fishermen in the area are more intimately aware of the problems this giant pile of coal brings. Liladhar, a fisherman whose livelihood depends solely on the Sewri coast considers the coal pile to be a cause of concern. ‘The water is polluted and dirty; the fishes don’t come here anymore. Because of the coal, the vegetation as well as the land has been affected’ he says.
Over 1.5 lakh metric tons of coal currently lie in the open on port trust land between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Sewri; the result of ill-planned moves by the government to store coking coal for thermal power plants. With no proper storage facilities, these giant piles of coal are an environmental hazard that threatens the health and livelihood of everyone in the surrounding areas.
Stalin, the director of Vanashakti, an NGO that has been highlighting this problem for months believes that little is being done to address this problem, ‘If you go all over Sewri, you will find that the entire 2 km radius around the area is coated with black soot and this covers the land as well as gets carried in the air. When it’s in the air and you inhale it, it causes long term damage by corroding your lungs, causing bacterial infections, Tuberculosis and respiratory illnesses’ he said. Stalin’s view has been backed by reports from The Forest Department and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
Experts say the coal particles have the potential to affect areas as widespread as tony south Mumbai, Sewri, Cotton Green, Reay Road, Haji Bunder and Hay Bunder and this has resident groups worried. Vice admiral (Retd) IC Rao, a member of Apli, a citizen’s forum in Mumbai filed a PIL to clear Mumbai Port Trust land of the coal hills but there’s been little progress in the matter. He believes it is the governing bodies that are to blame for constantly passing the buck. ‘On paper they lay down stringent conditions, Port Trust passes on these stringent conditions to contractors, the contractors couldn’t care less. When we complain again, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board says we will tell them again. This has been going on for eight years’ he said.
The government is now planning to construct a business district on the Mumbai Port Trust Land. Since it is unlikely that this will come up alongside mountains of coal, residents are hoping this will solve the problem once and for all.
Ankita Sinha, Reporter- Mumbai Bureau, The Property Show.