India’s government is driving the poor to Mahul, an air-polluted “gas chamber,” for economic development

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Being the most vulnerable and falling prey to human cruelty, environment is struggling to survive. From last few years, we are witnessing climate change rapidly and its consequences at a larger scale. From deforestation to emission of hazardous gases, environment is suffering. According to a data mentioned in 2019 World Air Quality Report, India is ranked on 5th position as most polluted country. With an average PM 2.5 concentration measurement of 72.54 µg/m³ in 2018, India managed to bring it down to 58.08 µg/m³ in 2019. But still, the country’s air is considered as unhealthy.

Photo: XRmumbai/Twitter

India has several heavy industrial areas like Bhilai in Chhattisgarh (Bhilai Steel Plant), Raigarh in Chhattisgarh (Jindal steel and Power limited), Jamshedpur in Jharkhand (Tata Steel Limited), Durgapur in West Bengal (Durgapur Steel Plant) etc. One such area is Mahul-Chembur area in Mumbai which is also termed as ‘gas chamber’ by National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015. Located on the eastern seafront of the Mumbai suburban district, it is a fishing village surrounded by industries, chemical plants and factories like Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, Tata Power, and Indian Oil and Aegis Logistics. Mahul is inspected as severely polluted industrial area with air toxicity level so high, that two Indian courts have already declared it unfit for human living. But still government is pushing poor people into this harmful residence in the name of slum rehabilitation.

Photo: XRmumbai/Twitter

24 year old Aditya Singh, currently associated with an international environmental conservation organization called ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and with a regional chapter called ‘XRmumbai’ and who has been a part of more than 100 protests related climate change, EIA draft 2020 and Save Aarey Forest was also the part of one such protest led by the families living in Mahul last year in 2019, with his other colleagues. He said, “The governments have been dumping people here in the pretext of slum rehabilitation.”

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His other colleague and an environmentalist, Sanjiv Valsan from his Instagram handle explained people’s situation living in Mahul, “These people originally settled in Mumbai’s slum pockets for living but for the pretext of ‘development’ and ‘security’, they were dumped into this ‘gas chamber’. People living there are either diagnosed with respiratory diseases or various cancers, skin infections, paralytic attacks, heart attacks and neurological issues. After over 150 pollution related deaths in Mahul, 5,500 families decided to protest against hazardous neighborhood to live in and to get a safer housing.”

Protest was led by the women-children community, which is a rare sight to watch.

Aditya Singh further added about the environmental policies of country saying, “Government in the name of boosting economic activities has made provisions where in a way, a private miner does not have to comply with the government for how much they are mining and what the costs incur after that. They are also fastening the process of getting environmental clearances, which is going to affect a lot of biodiversity rich regions like Konkan, Western Ghats and many more.”

And on the top, recent EIA (Environmental impact assessment) draft 2020 introduced by the government with amendments have left people wondering, is actually government prioritizing environmental issues?

Photo: XRmumbai/Twitter

What is EIA?

 Environmental impact assessment is the process of study which predicts the effect of the proposed industrial or infrastructural projects on the environment. It comes under the Environment protection Act 1986. EIA deals with the projects of thermal, nuclear and hydro projects, real estate and other industrial projects. It selects the best economic and environmental cause benefits solution among the other alternatives. In 1994, India came up with first EIA norms and then with changes in 2006. A new draft introduced this year, in March 2020 with amendments in the 2006 draft of EIA. The public consultation was given permission till month of August 2020.

Photo: XRmumbai/Twitter

Changes in EIA draft

  • It allows post-facto clearance which explains any project that comes without environment clearances could carry out operation.
  • There is a list of projects that have been exempted, which involves any project government categorizes as strategic. And if once the project is declared strategic, no information will be shared regarding it on the public domain.
  • Inland waterways and national highway projects have been excluded from the public consultation.
  • There is a provision that exempts the construction of projects of up to 150,000 sq. meters.
  • Violations can only be reported by the government authority and not the citizens.
  • Any EIA is present for the public hearing which will give chance to citizens to understand the project. But the new draft cuts the public consultation period from 30 days to 20 days.
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The ministry received 1.7 million emails and letters of advices, suggestions, comments and objections to the draft.

However according to The Report of World Air Quality, India has witnessed decrease in air pollution of about 20% from 2018 to 2019. One of the reasons behind improvement is supposed to be country’s first National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that aims to reduce PM 2.5 and bigger particulates PM 10 in different cities as compared to the emission levels of previous years.

Meanwhile there are other countries heading the list of most polluted countries with no improvements but leading the situation worse. Mongolia standing on 3rd position with an average concentration measurement of 58.50 µg/m³ in 2018 reached 62.00 µg/m³ in 2019 failing miserably and making the unhealthy and unfit environment for each and every living being of the country. Whereas Bangladesh with an average PM 2.5 concentration measurement of 97.10 µg/m³ in 2018 reduced pollution level to 83.30 µg/m³ in 2019 but yet the country is leading the list.

Governments are failing to do their bit in saving environment and resulting to young activists like Greta Thunberg, Ridhima Pandey, Autumn Peltier and many other becoming the voice of millions and billions of people out there fighting for the environment is itself a revolution. Environmental issues have to be prioritized as it has turned into one of the global challenges. We are witnessing climate change and other disasters at larger scale now.

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By

Shefali Ranawat is an Eat News correspondent in India. She want to be the voice of people. Also, she aim to be a war correspondent.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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