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Court Orders Authorities to Move Families From ‘Toxic Hellhole’ Mahul or Pay for Alternative Housing

The Mumbai neighbourhood, which has been declared unfit for human habitation by several reports and studies, was a part of VICE’s special coverage on environmental issues last week.

by Pallavi Pundir; photos by Pallavi Pundir
24 September 2019, 7:05am

The Eversmile Complex is located right next to chemical plants and factories, making the air heavily polluted and living conditions deplorable. Photo: Pallavi Pundir

In the light of the alarming reports on the dangers of living in Mahul, Mumbai, and the sustained agitation put up by the residents who’ve been forced to live there, the Bombay High Court has given a big victory to the people. On Monday, September 23, the court directed Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to move out the 5,000-odd families living in this heavily industrialised neighbourhood, within 12 weeks, or pay a rent of Rs 15,000 per month to each family, for alternative homes outside Mahul.

Mahul has been in the news for the last two years, mostly for the alarming statistics and studies on pollution. Last week, Mahul was a part of VICE’s initiative to cover the state of the environment around the globe through a series titled ‘Environmental Extremes’. This is where the BMC constructed resettlement projects to relocate around 5,500 families who have been displaced during demolition drives across the city. The 72 buildings in the compound called Eversmile Complex are located right next to heavy chemical factories and treatment plants, which have led to residents calling their homes “hell hole” or “gas chamber”. The National Green Tribunal declared the air of Mahul unfit for human habitation, while recent reports have revealed residents developing a host of diseases right after moving there.

“This is the second time that this order has come. It’s a matter of happiness for us that it’s come again. The first order had come this year itself in April. But the Mumbai government challenged the order in the Supreme Court instead,” says Bilal Khan, an activist from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that’s fighting for the residents to be relocated out of Mahul. “And even now, before this order was being passed, the authorities, especially the BMC, said that they need more time to challenge this order. The High Court has given justice but the government is not in the mood to do that. So we don’t know how long a fight we have to put up to see the light of day.”

Last weekend, a gas leak around areas such as Chembur, Mankhurd, Powai, Ghatkopar, Bhandup, and Kandivali led to great panic and concern. However, for the residents in Mahul, such leaks, and even explosions and fires are the norm. “When [the last week’s leak] happened, the BMC put all its effort to find out where the leak was coming from just because people outside of Mahul complained. But here, we live with this poison all the time,” says Rekha Ghadge, a resident who’s one of the activists responsible for the plea at the High Court. “But today, the law has told the authorities that we have the right to live too. However, we’re still in danger until we’re out, so we will keep fighting. We’ve been here for two years, so we will tolerate it for three more months. But beyond that, we will not be silent.”

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