Mumbai Local

City chokes as corporation grapples with fire

The fire came partially under control in the early hours of Friday. But according to officials, a brisk breeze around 4 am set it off again and spread it again over two kilometres. PHOTOS: RAJNEESH LONDHE  

For second day, a toxic cloud of smoke emanates from Deonar dumping ground; doctors see a rise in number of patients with breathing problems, dry cough

he drive across the eastern freeway that connects the Fort area with the eastern suburbs can often be a pleasant one, but on Friday morning, the approach held an ominous quality: almost like moving from the heart of the city toward a darker, disaster zone.

For the second day in a row, the city’s eastern suburbs — Wadala, Chembur, Deonar and Ghatkopar — were enveloped by a toxic cloud of smoke emanating from a major fire that broke out at the Deonar dumping ground on Thursday, which corporation officials are still struggling to contain.

Mumbai always experiences a seasonal haze during the winter months: a coming together of various factors such as a drop in atmospheric pressure and a fall in sea breeze speeds that blow away suspended particulate matter during the summer months.

Aided by the fire, those conditions have turned virulent over the last two days and the view form the freeway, as well as hundreds of other pictures from social media said it all.

#Mumbaismokecloud became a common theme as residents posted pictures from areas like Lower Parel, Dadar and Nerul. This was not Mumbai as they knew it, but a situation more akin to Delhi or Beijing, which recently had to issue a city-wide red alert, indicating that simply being outdoors was harmful to health.

(By evening, about 50 per cent of it was under control and BMC officials and firemen were still struggling to finish the task.)

The fire at the Deonar dumping ground on Thursday came partially under control in the early hours of Friday. But according to officials, a brisk breeze around 4 am set it off again and spread it out again over two kilometres of the ground. By evening, about 50 per cent of it was under control and BMC officials and firemen were still struggling to finish the task.

By late afternoon, the situation around Deonar and Chembur had improved in terms of visibility, but at every corner, there was no escaping an acrid smell that made breathing difficult at times. “Since morning, I’ve had difficulty both with breathing as well as with the visibility,” said Atiq Khan, a shopkeeper who has his establishment on the road from Deonar to Chembur. “This is not just the normal pollution that is there early in the morning, it is as if we are breathing actual smoke.”

Other residents in Chembur said they had been forced to shut the doors and windows of their homes for the past two days. “My children were having trouble breathing and when we just looked out of the window this morning we knew that something was seriously wrong; there was no way we were opening the window,” said Gautam Mangalat, a Chembur resident.

By evening, as the breeze changed its direction, the smog cover spread to Navi Mumbai, the smoke engulfing the entire area with many residents assuming a fire had broken out in the vicinity.

This is not the first time a fire has broken out at the Deonar dumping ground though residents say the after-effects have never been this bad.

“All the members of my family are complaining of cough and suffocation. The fire at the dumping ground is routine, but this fire was unusual. The fire broke out due to the negligence of the BMC and the police. Both these departments should work in coordination to avoid such incidentss,” said Arwind Tiwari, a businessman who lives on Ghatkopar-Mankhurd link road. He said if steps were not taken by the authorities, the residents of area would have to move the High Court again over the dumping ground issue.

Local doctors reported a rise in the number of cases of people complaining of breathing problems and dry cough. “People with asthma are suffering more. I have seen a 40 per cent rise in patients complaining of burning eyes, leaky nose and breathing problems,” said Dr Jyoti Bhalla, who runs a clinic at Shivaji Nagar.

According to Manish Pimple, deputy chief engineer, solid waste management of the BMC, fighting the fire required seven bulldozers, six fire engines, and four tankers.

“Due to the nature of the dumping ground, while trying to control the fire we have to consider the direction of the wind and have to work from the opposite direction. We have managed to control about 50 per cent of the fire now,” he explained.

Mr Pimple said there was a similar fire last year at the ground and that the BMC had filed a police complaint against some unidentified persons who were said to be responsible.

The problem is in the absence of a proper solid waste disposal system such incidents are likely to occur again. Mr Tiwari, for instance, believed rag pickers purposefully light fire here to clear garbage and collect metal. He said there are about 2,500 rag pickers and about eight shop owners who are in scrap business.

BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta said the civic body is working on a permanent solution and that it has prepared a ‘solid waste to energy’ proposal to address the dumping issue at Deonar. “We are going to speed up the process so that the project will take off as soon as possible.”

Residents hoped the dire situation created over the last two days would finally force the corporation’s hand.

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Swapnasaurabha Kulshreshtha is a freelance journalist

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 3:20:52 PM |

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